SAN BENITO — Jesse Robles’ mother trades in her SUVs every year because her street is too rough on them.
So a year ago, he bought a Chevrolet S-10 pickup to handle what he calls the toughest road in town — Railroad Avenue, where potholes run about a foot-and-a-half deep.
“I tried to pick out a vehicle that could ride the road better,” Robles said. “I thought it was the perfect truck.”
But it turns out, the road was too tough for his little truck.
“When you enter the holes and bumps, all your vehicle rattles,” Robles said. “There’s a lot of squeaking because the vehicle is going through so much. I’ve had to replace the leaf spring — what basically holds your wheel to the frame of the truck.”
In San Benito, the roads don’t come tougher.
“I’d say this is the worst road in San Benito,” Robles said.
That’s because the city can’t maintain the road.
It’s Union Pacific Railroad that owns the 344-foot property on which it lies.
Now, city officials are trying to lease the property from Union Pacific so the city can repair the road.
“It’d take a bunch of stress out of our everyday life,” Robles, who works at H-E-B, said. “It’d be a tremendous weight taken off our back.”
For more than 30 years, residents living in about 12 homes have called on the city to repair the rutted dirt road.
“My parents and elderly neighbors tried to fix the road,” Robles said.
In November, after graduating from Texas A&M University at Kingsville, Robles came back home to help.
A few weeks later, he called Mayor Ben Gomez.
Gomez already knew the road’s condition.
As part of his job with the San Benito school district, Gomez drives the road to visit students at their homes.
“I can’t get in,” Gomez said.
Last month at City Hall, Robles called on city commissioners to maintain the road.
“It’s real bad,” Commissioner Tony Gonzales said. “People can’t drive in there. We want to go out and fix that street. They need it real bad.”
Last month, commissioners mulled buying the property from Union Pacific.
Now, officials are considering entering into a lease agreement with Union Pacific, Gomez said.
That would give the city the right to maintain the road.
“Most definitely we have to fix that road,” Gomez said. “We have to help people.”
Meanwhile, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa is negotiating with Union Pacific.
“The discussions have started and a meeting to discuss the issue in more depth and in person is in the planning stage,” De La Rosa stated.
Taxpayers on city land
In 2003, the Robles 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.
At the time, Robles 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.
Still, Robles’ family pays the city $476.24 a year in property taxes because the home lies within the city limits.
“It might have been done in the past but it’s not proper,” Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez said of the city’s previous maintenance. “Their street needs work. That way, citizens can access their homes safely. They’re taxpaying citizens. But we have to follow ordinances.”
Safety at risk
Along Railroad Avenue, residents such as Joe Meza aren’t asking the city for a costly roadway.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect — as long as it’s drivable,” Meza, a disabled former mechanic, said.
Before he moved into his home off Railroad Avenue, neighbors told him the road was going to be repaired.
So about five years ago, he rented his three-room frame home for $700 a month.
But the road was never fixed.
“It’s been forever,” Meza said. “It’s about time somebody did something about it.”
Heavy rains turn the road into a muddy, rutted trail.
“When it rains a lot, we can’t get out,” Meza said.
Meza wonders what could happen if his neighbors fall victim to serious crime.
“The cops park at the end of the street and walk down the street,” Meza said. “If it was an emergency, how would they come in? They wouldn’t make it on time.”
Decades of hope
After more than 30 years, some of Robles’ neighbors are losing hope in the road’s repair.
Some residents are letting their homes show the wear of the years.
“A lot of people’s homes look like they’ve given up,” Robles said. “Having a fixed road would make us proud of where we live. It would be like a new start.”