Commissioners to Propose State Take Over Southern Road to Spaceport America

Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America
Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America

Dona Ana County is looking for the state to take over a southern road leading to Spaceport America.

Also Tuesday, county commissioners will vote on a resolution petitioning the governor and transportation department to build a new interchange at Upham, the main exit off Interstate 25 to reach Spaceport America from a southern route.

The proposal also asks the state to take over ownership of the road as a state route and build it out as an “all-weather paved highway.”

The proposed resolution calls on “businesses, business organizations, governmental entities, and elected officials from throughout the region” to join the petition.

The existing 24-mile road is not paved. Dona Ana County has been struggling with how to fully pave it with the limited amount of money that the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has available for the project.

Under the current plan, the paving will be done in two phases and will cost $14.5 million. Even after that expenditure, officials are hoping for a smooth driving surface. Converting that surface into a full paved road will wait for a still-unfunded third phase.

After a budget cut in 2013 that was replenished this year by the Legislature, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority — in charge of paying for the southern road — has about $14.5 million for the project.

County officials said that’s not enough to build a full-fledged paved road. But as part of Phase 2 of the road project, county staff are considering two options. One entails building a road out of reclaimed asphalt millings, left over from a highway construction project that’s expected to be carried out in 2015, and the other is chip-sealing the road, a sort of basic layer of pavement.

The eventual cost of Phase 1 will play a role it determining how much can be done in the second phase, Armijo said.

Doña Ana County Commissioner Ben Rawson, who’s on a spaceport tax district board, said the first phase of construction is expected to cost about $9 million, leaving the remainder of the budget for Phase 2. But he said an eventual third phase will be needed to “really complete the road.”

Rawson said the road under current plans “won’t be a full paved road” because there’s not enough money available. Part of that is because of the mitigation costs in dealing with more than 30 archeological sites that were discovered.

The third phase will likely not be funded until revenues from Virgin Galactic’s space tourism flights begin to come in. The company’s latest timetable has commercial flights beginning from Spaceport America at the end of this year.

The southern road provides a quicker route from Las Cruces to the spaceport. Currently, visitors must drive north of the spaceport to Truth or Consequences, and then drive south again to reach the remote facility.

Dona Ana county officials believe they won’t fully reap the economic benefits of the spaceport without a direct route to it.