Summer brings out the orange barrels

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A crew works to fill a pavement cut in front of a commercial driveway on Osuna NE west of Jefferson. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Each spring and summer, Albuquerque-area drivers are required to navigate multiple lane drops, detours and road closures as they try to get from Point A to Point B.

In fact, it is not uncommon to leave one construction zone only to be met with another, as reader Diane Kramer reported this spring when she found crews on both Osuna and Montaño.

“I understand it; I’m willing to work with it. (I just) wish they could stagger them,” she says, “so we aren’t scrunched” in work zones on every possible route.

Welcome to June and high road construction season in the Albuquerque area. The folks in charge of the work would likely say it’s like that lesson in patience in the old rhyme “April showers bring May flowers” – what’s unpleasant now (traffic construction delays) has a positive payoff later (safer, smoother, wider, quieter roadways).

The challenge in that suggested staggering is there are myriad city, county and state projects that all need dry weather with high enough high and low temperatures to make the best use of the best products. Melanie Martinez, program manager and public information officer for the Department of Municipal Development, says the city “and the New Mexico Department of Transportation work together to coordinate projects as to not overly disturb the flow of traffic going from one side of town to another.” That said, “with temperatures rising also comes a rise in construction projects being done around the city of Albuquerque.”

Bernadette Bell, public relations officer for the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s District Three office, says, “DOT schedules many of its projects over the warmer months for the simple fact that much of the material is constricted by temperature.”

That includes application and curing of the epoxy overlay used on bridge decks as well as asphalt mixes, striping and paint. Even soils and seeding need certain weather conditions so work is done once and done right.

David Mitchell of Bernalillo County’s Operations and Maintenance Division says “having a 40- to 50-degrees-and-rising daytime temperature is the rule-of-thumb for pretty much all pavements, sealers (and) pavement markings such as crosswalks. That goes up to 70 degrees for the really thin pavement layers, such as the friction courses DOT uses on the roads signed over 45 mph. (And there’s) the added caveat that for new paving on a gravel roadbed, the overnight temperature should not have been below freezing for enough successive nights to have any frozen water in the ground that could melt and shrink.”

A look at shows those restrictions knock around five months of the year out of the running, leaving April through October the prime time for work on the Albuquerque area’s many miles of residential, collector, arterial and highway lanes.

Now consider the construction deadlines, restrictions and outright moratoriums for certain areas for the start of school and during the New Mexico State Fair, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and holiday shopping season.

And throw in that save for emergency work, the city does not do “around-the-clock construction … as we do follow the city of Albuquerque noise ordinance,” according to Martinez. Suddenly trying to stagger all the projects is, well, staggering.

Unlike the city, NMDOT deals with highways and often does work around the clock. Bell says that to minimize impact on drivers “we strive to schedule work at night and on weekends.”

In fact, this weekend the state “will be completed with the first phase of bridge preservation” with the Washington Bridge over Interstate 40, something crews took a break from so as not to interfere with the Gathering of Nations on May 29 and 30. “We try to be mindful of these types of events and their impact on the quality of life for many New Mexicans,” she says.

In addition to NMDOT’s ongoing bridge preservation, this summer the city will be widening the Singer Bridge, replacing the Bridge Boulevard bridge over William Street, making improvements to Atrisco Drive, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Ladera Drive, and rehabbing stretches of Juan Tabo, Eagle Ranch, Broadway, Carlisle, Comanche, Spain, Universe, 98th and Wyoming.

And Catherine Lopez of the county’s Communication Services Department says Bernalillo County will be working on projects including Sharp Road, Darby Drive, Longview Road, Calle Por Los Caballo and Covey Court in the East Mountains, along with Industrial Avenue and Eubank Boulevard.

Project info is available at, and

Bell says, “We understand the impacts that work causes, and we try to minimize those as part of our job to maintain and preserve our transportation infrastructure. Regular upkeep is an investment and prevents larger problems from happening in the future.”

So just as April showers bring May flowers, June’s bumper crop of orange barrels should bring better roads for drivers in the fall. Hang on to that thought as you approach the next construction zone.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.

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Crews prep the deck and apply an epoxy overlay on an Interstate 40 bridge between Carlisle NE and the Big I. The work requires multiple steps and applications, with temperatures at least 50 degrees and rising and preferably 65 to 75 degrees for faster curing. (Courtesy of NMDOT)

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