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(This is part 1 in a two-part series on Paseo del Volcan. Look for the second part next week.)
It’s been over 30 years since Rio Rancho and Sandoval County officials had an idea for a road connecting I-40 to US 550, creating a bypass that would allow the trucking industry, and all traffic, to avoid Albuquerque.
This four-lane highway would span roughly 37 miles and run through two counties — and be more than a bypass.
When completed, several officials say, this asphalt dream would act as a huge economic catalyst for Sandoval County and the City of Rio Rancho. But after several attempts to complete it failed due to problems with funds, platting and land ownership, Paseo del Volcan still hasn’t made its connections.
The Observer went looking for answers about what it would take to finish this project.
State Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, said a capital outlay bill sitting on the governor’s desk, if signed, would put $3.9 million toward buying all of the rights-of-way access to PdV, as well as designing and constructing the road.
“I heard that there is also $3 million in the budget, (House Bill 2), that will go towards PdV,” Harper said.
If Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs both bills, he said, it means paving can start from two ends.
“I know that all of the right-of-way where PdV ends now on Unser (Boulevard) and the next one on Rainbow (Boulevard) is all done, so we can start paving,” Harper said. “I was told it would cost roughly $2.5 million to pave about two miles, maybe a hair less than that.”
He said the next phase is connecting Rainbow to Southern Boulevard, which may take more time because a few homes in the path of the road need to be relocated.
“Really the most important thing to get this going is the interchange at I-40,” Harper said. “If the money comes through, there should be enough to build the right-of-way and the interchange for the intersection, which is probably the most expensive part.”
Harper said last he heard, the New Mexico Department of Transportation was making progress on getting the right-of-way.
“Antiquated plating has been a big obstacle…a kind of patchwork of ownership,” he said. “In many cases, the owners live, like, in New York and out of state, and in some cases we can’t even find owners. So the Sandoval County side has been a real challenge.”
A few obstacles
“The Bernalillo side has been a completely different story,” Harper said. “There have basically been three big landowners that all donated the land. The Black family ranch (Quail Ranch), Western Land Holdings and the City of Albuquerque all owned a bunch.”
Those donations cover the land between I-40 and the Sandoval County line. Going north, the platting becomes sketchy and determining land ownership becomes an act of investigation.
In the 1960s and ’70s, developer AMREP sold half-acre to full-acre lots to people all over the nation and world. Most were never developed.
On the outer rim, AMREP owns 136 parcels, which equals 118 acres. The Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority owns 13 parcels, or 167 acres.
Other private ownership equals 1,018 parcels, meaning 1,161 acres throughout where the road would run.
“These areas are actively being worked on,” Harper said. “There’s hundreds and hundreds of property owners that need to be contacted so we can move forward.”
Mike Skolnick, co-owner of Excalibur Realty and Investments who has assembled parcels for projects in Rio Rancho, said just because these sections of land are on the tax roll doesn’t mean the county or city knows who the owners are.
“Back in my heyday when I was doing my big assembly work…I had a private investigator on retainer after I had exhausted all avenues to find property owners,” he said. “This is basically where NMDOT is now in regards to finding landowners on the Sandoval County side of PdV.”
Skolnick said he would send the investigator the tax ID number, and within a day, he would receive some form of information on the landowner.
“As far as I know, for a ‘taking’ to occur, the state has to get in touch with you as a property owner,” Skolnick said. “Now if they do everything in their power to find you and you don’t respond, then they publish in a newspaper, and if there is still no response, then a judge will automatically award it to the state.”
Part of the trouble with moving forward on PdV is this very thing, he said.
“If you get into tax delinquency, then you just don’t know because it takes the state four or five years to take that parcel of land back,” he said. “There could possibly be multiple issues like this slowing the process of completing PdV down.”
Rio Rancho City Councilor Jim Owen said the thing really keeping PdV from being completed is funding. Although no proposed utilities are going underneath the road, he said it’s a very expensive proposition.
“We really want this road to be classified for semi-truck traffic because then it genuinely becomes a loop,” Owen said. “Many people understand that a roadway means economic growth, but then if they don’t see any benefit in it for them, it doesn’t become a priority.”
An economic view
Sandoval County Commissioner Michael Meek said he believes PdV hasn’t been completed because political powers have kept the financial focus on the east side of the Rio Grande.
“I think the fear is that once the west side gets major infrastructure money and improved roadways, the logical place to continue growth is westward,” Meek said in an email. “This would mean less money for special projects on the east side if money is used for the basics on the west. PdV was a higher priority in the 1990s. Around 2008, the priority was altered to accommodate the Rail Runner Express.”
Meek said major growth without a proper highway system is very unlikely, because big companies want regional roads close by.
“Highways create jobs these major employers can bring with the proper transportation in the close vicinity,” Meek said.
Harper said he is trying to procure $80 million from the federal government for PdV. During the 60-day legislative session, a bill asking for $83 million from the state for PdV was denied.
For now, it seems PdV’s fate lies in the hands of the state and federal government.