At the earliest sign of spring, the New Mexico Department of Transportation will take up the remaining piece of the project -- reconstructing the U.S. 550/U.S. 64 intersection and upgrading light signals.
"Once the intersection is complete the entire project will be complete," said Patricia Wolff, the department's public information officer. "We anticipate that the project will be complete within two months after (it) resumes."
Wolff said she understands the frustrations from all sides over the controversial construction work and vows to head into 2013 on better footing.
"In the past, mistakes were made as far as keeping lines of communication open for all parties involved who have been impacted by the project," Wolff said. "That is one of my priorities. We have to take proactive measures to make sure problems don't happen again."
One of those measures is to have department representatives like Wolff -- who is responsible for communication on projects in District 5, which includes San Juan County -- arrange face-to-face conversations with the community.
"Before the project resumes in the spring, we plan to hold meetings with citizens, with the mayor and city council, and others, to better listen to the needs that clearly are out there," she said. "We can do better."
Begun in spring 2011, the road expansion work created hardship and hassles not uncommon for projects of its size. Both the extended time and controversial elements have tried the city's purse and patience.
Small business owners watched helplessly as customers were detoured away from their storefronts, some obscured with piles of dirt and debris. Profits, already hurt by the lagging economy, dwindled further.
And the federal project forced the city to borrow $2 million to redo utility systems to accommodate the work.
The company contracted to do the work had problems of its own, which meant the project would not be completed on October 2012 as originally expected. The owner of Sterling Brothers Construction died in July and the project saw a series of superintendents.
But along with the New Year comes the hope that the work will finish soon and concerns over unpopular elements will be addressed.
Cliff Steinmetz, operations superintendent for the Public Works Department, agrees the lengthy construction work has been unpopular but despite it all, sees a benefit for citizens and businesses.
"The city had to take on debt to make changes to water and sewer systems," he said. "The upshot is that we are getting work done that will improve water pressure and sewer service."
Instead of the utility lines zigzagging across Highway 64, he said, a streamlined system that's more efficient and effective will take its place.
Steinmetz explained that all the water-system work, including installation of 24 fire hydrants spaced 250 feet apart along Broadway, is done. Just 600 feet of sewer lines along 5th Street toward 3rd Street remains.
"It's work that should have been done a while ago because it's badly needed," Steinmetz said. "It just comes at a tough time."
Steinmetz noted the donnybrook over the roadwork, especially the long stretches of unbroken medians that force traffic to overshoot destinations and take unpredictable U-turns.
And like so many who travel along the Highway 64 corridor, he has his own ideas for future improvement.
"One thing I would do is put in a signal light at Bergen Lane for Mesa Alta Junior High School," he said. "That would certainly help increase safety for the kids and families during the morning and afternoon traffic."
For more information on the project, citizens can contact Patricia Wolff at (505) 476-4245 or write to Patricia.Wolff@state.nm.us.
A previous article erroneously listed the Highway 64 project as being "officially finished." The work is suspended until spring when work on the U.S. 550/U.S. 64 intersection will begin. The entire project should be complete by summer 2013.