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Redesign of U.S. 550 unveiled with construction to begin in the fall

MAP MASTERRIO RANCHO, N.M. — The main east-west road through the town of Bernalillo, U.S. 550, will be redesigned as a six-lane road with raised medians on the east side of the Rio Grande, and a “super street” approach on the west side of the river that limits left turns and provides U-turns at designated points.

That was judged to be the best of several alternatives for re-designing U.S. 550, according to a design and engineering team from the New Mexico Department of Transportation and from the firm of Bohannan Huston Inc.

About 60 people, mostly residents and merchants from Bernalillo, attended a meeting in Bernalillo on Thursday night where a presentation was made on the preferred alternative plan, and where members of the design and engineering team fielded questions concerning traffic flow, access to 550 from side roads, construction timetable, cost and related issues.

As part of the project, a new bridge on the north side of the existing bridge over the Rio Grande will be constructed to accommodate additional traffic lanes, as well as a bicycle path and a pedestrian walkway, said DOT spokeswoman Bernadette Bell.

The first phase of construction will likely begin sometime this fall with the river bridge, which has an estimated cost of $13 million. The entire re-build could cost up to $30 million, not including the purchase of some right-of-way property. Completion of the entire project is contingent on when mostly federal funds are made available, Bell said.

Also under the new design, left turns will be built at Sheriff’s Posse Road, Kuaua Road, Jemez Dam Road, at the new entrance to Santa Ana Casino and at the east entrance to the Warrior II service station. Three signalized U-turns will be built west of the river between Sherrif’s Posse Road, and N.M. 528.

The intersection of U.S. 550 and N.M. 528, will be converted to a “continuous flow intersection.” Westbound vehicles on 550 that want to go south on 528 would crossover on-coming traffic at a signal located 600-700 feet before the intersection. Those vehicles would then travel on a separate roadbed located on the outside and parallel to the opposing through lanes. The vehicles would turn left onto 528 at a designated traffic signal, Bell said.

Last month, the Department of Transportation announced it was looking at three possible redesigns for the two-mile stretch of U.S. 550 between N.M. 313 (Camino del Pueblo) and N.M. 528.

“The department considers this alternative – a six-lane road with raised medians and a super street – to be the most effective at reducing congestion, providing safety features and access for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, and having the least impact to property owners,” Bell said.

Engineers at the Thursday meeting said that the portion of U.S. 550 that will be rebuilt has “reached the end of its design life.” Up to 50,000 vehicles travel the roadway every weekday and that number is expected to grow to 85,000 by 2035.

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