A new tweak to the long-awaited Paseo del Norte/Interstate 25 project, a $93 million redesign of the city’s biggest traffic headache, will apparently retain at least one stoplight.
The proposed change, unveiled at a public meeting Wednesday, would require motorists driving east on Paseo to turn north at an intersection — just as they do today — before merging onto northbound I-25.
The “final proposed design” eliminates a loop road that would have allowed motorists on eastbound Paseo to turn north onto I-25 without turning at the intersection.
The change is intended largely as a cost-cutting measure that would eliminate the need to move the intersection of Paseo and the access road east of the interchange, said Phil Gallegos, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Transportation. Gallegos did not have an estimate for how much money the change would save.
The city of Albuquerque is paying $50 million of the project’s cost, using gross-receipt tax revenue bonds, with the balance coming from the county, the state and federal sources.
Albert Thomas, senior vice president for Bohannan Huston, a member of the project’s design-build team, said space limitations were the chief consideration for eliminating the east-to-north loop road.
The tight radius of the loop road would have required traffic to travel no more than 15 mph, Thomas said. Motorists merging onto northbound I-25 would have been forced to merge with traffic traveling at highway speeds, creating a safety hazard, he said.
“It would have been very difficult to allow those people to get up to speed and move into traffic,” he said.
Private development southeast of Paseo del Norte prevented designers from moving the intersection of Paseo and the access road more than 100 feet east from its present location, Thomas said.
In addition, planners expect minimal east-to-north traffic flow through the interchange, he said.
Project planners project that during peak hours about 390 vehicles an hour will turn from eastbound Paseo to northbound I-25 by the year 2035, Thomas said. That compares with an expected 2,500 vehicles an hour traveling from eastbound Paseo to southbound I-25.
Gallegos said the change also allowed designers to improve a central feature of the project: the flyover intended to whisk northbound I-25 traffic onto westbound Paseo del Norte, Gallegos said. The flyover will eliminate the need for motorists exiting northbound I-25 to merge into a single lane before turning onto westbound Paseo, Gallegos said.
The new design provides motorists using the flyover with two continuous lanes on westbound Paseo, avoiding the need for motorists to merge into outside lanes of traffic, he said.
The change also shortens the flyover ramp, he said. Previous designs called for the flyover ramp to make a large arc sweeping north of Paseo del Norte, allowing drivers to merge into the outside lanes of westbound Paseo, he said.
The project to rebuild the interchange officially broke ground Sept. 5 and is expected to be finished in late 2014 or early 2015. Actual construction won’t start until after the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta concludes next month. Some pre-construction work is underway, however, such as moving utility lines.
In addition to easing clogged traffic, the project is expected to create 3,000 jobs, generate $2.8 billion in economic activity and save $2.5 billion in fuel annually, according to Gov. Susana Martinez.