ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If there’s one thing drivers can be thankful for this holiday weekend, it’s that the Paseo del Norte interchange rebuild is just about a month from completion. And if there’s one thing Black Friday shoppers can appreciate, it’s how nice it’s been wrapped up for the public.
That’s because a lot more goes into a modern road project than industrial gray concrete.
William Hutchinson is the landscape architect for the New Mexico Department of Transportation. He says the department works to ensure projects have a “sense of place” and “relate to that place.”
“They may not make sense somewhere else, but they make sense right there,” he says.
And so the $93 million Paseo rebuild is cast in colors that mimic the sun hitting the Sandia Mountains and motifs that celebrate the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta an exit to the north.
Hutchinson and Michael Smelker, NMDOT’s South Region Design manager, say NMDOT worked off the city of Albuquerque’s Interstate Corridor Enhancement Plan, which has an overall concept for I-40 and I-25 to keep the interchanges looking cohesive through the metro area.
NMDOT chose the Sandias palette for the Paseo interchange, as it’s tall and closer to the mountains. The alternative palette, West Mesa, was used at Coors/I-40.
It means the Paseo/I-25 retaining walls and bridge supports are stained a deep reddish-brown, Hutchinson says, while the highest flyover, northbound I-25 to westbound Paseo, is a lighter “pinky-gray.”
“As the sun goes down,” Hutchinson says, “the overpass will glow.”
Smelker adds that by graduating the colors, darker at the bottom and lighter at the top, the structures are “not so heavy in the sky.” At dusk, the watermelon hues are intended to “match the sunset.”
In keeping with the goal for features to be “aesthetic but not distraction,” Hutchinson says a simple balloon motif that came out of public meetings last fall was worked into the overpasses. Smelker says NMDOT gave the concept to the contractor, Kiewit, which developed the final imagery.
Also simple is the pedestrian/bike bridge over the interstate. Smelker says the fast-tracked design-build process precluded anything fancier. The structure – some might call it kennel-meets-railroad-car – conforms to all the required performance specifications.
Still in the works is decorative fencing around the surge ponds at Jefferson and El Pueblo. Smelker says the ponds are part of the storm drain system, and the fencing is a safety feature that should include some combination of patterned bricks, stained concrete and wrought iron.
As for landscaping, Hutchinson says crews will revegetate cleared areas with native grasses and wildflowers to stabilize the ground and protect against erosion. Smelker says true landscaping will be up to the city of Albuquerque.
The goal, Hutchinson says, was to give the interchange a “very special look” while ensuring its usable features and aesthetics “fit the nature of the community.”
To repurpose a sign-off that was on another NMDOT engineer’s email – “a truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour” – metro-area drivers can be truly happy there’s some hardscaped scenery built into the new Paseo interchange for them to enjoy.
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The pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-25 at Paseo del Norte incorporates a simple design because, officials say, the fast-tracked design-build process precluded anything fancier. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)