Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
BERNALILLO – Mention the project that’s supposed to improve traffic flow from Interstate 25 through the town of Bernalillo, and local business owner Lara Harrison grimaces.
Harrison and other businesspeople, town residents and commuters who drive through Bernalillo from Rio Rancho say the $19 million I-25/U.S. 550 interchange project that started March 11 has made traffic in the notoriously congested area worse – and there’s no relief in sight.
“It has not been fun,” said Harrison, who runs Under Charlie’s Covers bookstore in the commercial strip on the north side of U.S. 550 west of I-25.
The 240-day project was supposed to be completed by Nov. 6, but it’s behind schedule. State Department of Transportation district spokesman Phil Gallegos said work will likely continue for several months.
He said FNF Construction’s contract provides for penalties of $8,300 a day for missing the deadline.
Harrison and her husband live in Rio Rancho. Her husband works at Sandia National Laboratories. During the construction, he has left home at 4:30 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. to avoid the congestion.
“It’s always been a bottleneck,” Rio Rancho Councilor Tim Crum said, referring to U.S. 550 between N.M. 528 and the freeway. He commutes from his home in Cabezon to Santa Fe by train from the Sandoval County/U.S. 550 station.
He has his route timed to the minute: Get past the N.M. 528/U.S. 550 traffic light before 6:30 a.m., and he can make the 6:42 a.m. Rail Runner. Miss that time window, and he risks missing the train, something he hasn’t done yet, he said.
“They just don’t want to deal with the traffic,” said Glenda Witt, manager at Style America near Harrison’s bookstore. Witt said she’s averaging around 150 fewer customers per month, while monthly sales figures are down from $2,300 to $1,900 since the project started.
“Generally, I think everybody is ready for it to be over,” said Nancy Walker, who owns the Curves gym in the same commercial strip on U.S. 550.
Gallegos said work on all aspects of the project is still underway. It includes:
- Widening U.S. 550 eastbound and westbound from I-25 to N.M. 313 from four to six lanes;
- Building local access roads north and south of U.S. 550 at Rail Runner Avenue to improve access to local businesses;
- Widening the U.S. 550 bridge over I-25;
- Building more ramps on each corner of the interchange to improve traffic flow to and from the freeway;
- Moving the southbound frontage road access point to N.M. 165 east toward Placitas; and
- Building loop roads from Hill Road to provide access to the interchange.
Delays in complex projects that affect high-traffic routes are common, Gallegos said.
He declined to give specifics and would say only that delays typically stem from the complexity of coordinating between the main contractor, subcontractors and utilities, while trying to accommodate drivers.
Gallegos said they will work with FNF Construction to determine the cause of the delays before deciding any penalty amount due.