New hope for residents of pothole-ridden road

SAN BENITO — Before Jose Meza moved into his home off Railroad Avenue, he heard the rutted dirt road was going to be repaired.

“The road was bad since we moved in but the neighbors said, ‘It’s going get fixed,’” Meza, a disabled former mechanic, said yesterday.

So he rented the three-room frame home for $700.

“But the road never got fixed,” he said.

That was about five years ago — and now the potholes are about the size of a small car.

“Even when it’s dry, the road is real bad,” Meza said. “It’s full of holes. Some are a foot deep. They’re big — about a car length.”

For decades, residents living in about 12 homes along Railroad Avenue have gone to City Hall to complain about the road conditions just off Williams Road.

But the city does not maintain the 344-foot road because Union Pacific Railroad actually owns the property, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated yesterday.

So neighbors do not know — now and for decades — where to turn for help in maintaining the road.

“Every time we call the city, they tell us the city doesn’t own it — that it belongs to Union Pacific,” Meza said. “And when we call Union Pacific, they say it’s not there’s — that the property belongs to the city.”

City might buy land

Now, the residents have hope.

Earlier this week, city commissioners requested De La Rosa try to buy the property from Union Pacific.

“If they buy the land, that would be awesome,” resident Jesse Robles, said. “That’s the first sign of someone taking ownership. They’d be responsible.”

On Tuesday night, Robles presented Mayor Ben Gomez with a petition signed by nine neighbors along with documents dating back to 1986.

“The residents have found old documents from the year 1986 that solve this issue,” Robles told commissioners during a public comment period. “We hope this will allow the city of San Benito to now repair and maintain the roadway since the Union Pacific Railroad Co. has given permission to do so.”

However, the old documents actually show Union Pacific was giving the city permission to access a drainage ditch off Railroad Avenue.

The meeting’s agenda called on commissioners to consider filling in the road’s potholes.

Instead, commissioners met in closed session with City Attorney Mark Sossi before requesting De La Rosa negotiate a land deal with Union Pacific.

“Now we can see the light,” Robles, who works at H-E-B, said yesterday.

In 2003, his family paid $12,000 for 1.6 acres off Railroad Avenue, where they built a three-bedroom brick home to live close to other family members in the area, Robles said.

At the time, he said, the city was maintaining the road as a “favor” to residents — as it had done on-and-off during the years.

Then, about eight years ago, the city stopped maintaining the road.

“The city maintains that the property is legally owned by Union Pacific Railroad,” De La Rosa, who took office about three years ago, stated.

Still, Robles’ family pays the city $476.24 a year in property taxes because the home lies within the city limits.

Road conditions

Four years ago, the city stopped picking up brush along the road, Robles said.

“Four years of brush — it piles up,” he said. “Now the brush is six feet high. Brush probably covers about half the entire road on the side of the ditch.”

Neighbors fear a brush fire could set their homes ablaze.

“It’s a huge fire hazard,” Robles said. “If that brush catches fire, the houses and trees would certainly catch fire.”

Like Robles, Meza said neighbors lack public services because vehicles cannot drive through the rutted road.

“This week, a fire truck responding to a false alarm got stuck,” Meza said.

Police also have trouble responding to calls.

“When we call police, the police have to come walking when it’s raining,” he said.

Along the road, dumping household garbage is hard work.

That’s because the city places its dumpsters at the road’s head.

“We have to take the trash all the way to the beginning of the road — even when it’s dry,” Meza said.

When it rains, the mail stops coming in.

“Right now we get no mail because it’s real muddy — the mailman can’t get through so they don’t deliver mail,” Meza said. “Even when it stops raining, the water stays there for about a month.”

Meza said his 2007 GMC Yukon has taken a beating on the road.

“It’s gone into the ditch three or four times,” Meza said. “When it’s muddy, it kind of pushes you in the ditch.”

New hope

Now, residents are hoping the city buys the land where the road lies.

“It’s the first time we feel we could get through all of this,” Robles said. “I get chills in my head just thinking about it.”

Did You Know

On July 21, 1995, 10 residents living along Railroad Avenue signed a petition calling on the city to maintain the roadway.

Then on Aug. 1, 1995, city commissioners met to discuss “maintenance” along Railroad Avenue.