City leaders concerned Portales street lights safety risk

Freedom New Mexico: Clarence Plank Vehicles traveling through the intersection of South Avenue C and West First Street Wednesday in Portales.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Clovis and Portales leaders are concerned traffic lights in Portales may present a safety risk to workers — an issue they plan to take up with the state, which owns the lights.

Issues of faulty wiring and outdated equipment surfaced during a Clovis Public Works Committee meeting Wednesday.

At least for the last four years, Clovis traffic personnel have maintained state-owned traffic lights in Portales.

Kevin Musick, traffic control supervisor with Clovis’ Public Works told the committee because of the danger to his technicians and the potential for traffic crashes, Clovis needs to withdraw to avoid liability if the state doesn’t fix the problems.

“It’s a scary, dangerous situation that’s going to come up,” he said. “We’re going (to) get sued, there’s no doubt about it… It’s a time-bomb waiting to go off.”

The agreement between the communities was created to save the state from having to send a technician from Santa Fe. Also, because Portales does not have personnel trained in traffic light repair and maintenance, said Musick.

After hearing Musick’s concerns, City Manager Joe Thomas recommended Clovis and Portales meet with the state to try and get the systems upgraded and repaired.

If those talks are unsuccessful, Thomas said he would recommend Clovis withdraw from the agreement.

Commissioner Fidel Madrid agreed.

“The safety of our employees comes first,” he said.

Portales’ City Manager Tom Howell said efforts are under way to set a meeting with the state.

He said the issues definitely need to be resolved and Portales does not have the technical expertise to deal with the lights without assistance.

“If the city of Clovis doesn’t feel safe, then we’ll have to get the state to come in and do (maintenance) until we get it resolved,” he said.

“We have never had the expertise to do (the maintenance and repairs).”

Howell said he was aware the systems were aging, but wasn’t fully aware of the safety concerns until Wednesday.

Recently, Musick said a light at First and Main Streets was flashing red and displaying green at the same time.

Technicians trying to repair it had to stand in pooled rain water.

In wiring cabinets, such as one near the entrance to Wal-Mart on U.S. 70, Musick said a light for the nearby railroad tracks is wired separate from a breaker. He said if a technician wasn’t aware of that, they might be electrocuted, thinking they had shut off power to the cabinet.

Some of the lights and accompanying cabinets are so old replacement parts aren’t available, modifications have been made to wiring without documentation or updated schematics and several of the light systems do not meet electrical codes.

And at an intersection near Eastern New Mexico University, continual red lights are in place over a one-way inlet that could mislead unfamiliar motorists into thinking they can enter, he said.