AZTEC — Construction of a pedestrian bridge to provide access to the Aztec Ruins is set to begin early next month.
Brush clearing, trail marking and tree removal began a week ago to make way for the oversized, heavy equipment needed to erect the 400-foot, steel and concrete bridge. Weather permitting, the bridge is expected to be completed by the end of June when work to lay the trail beds will begin.
"We're waiting on the drill rig from Salt Lake City to arrive around the first of April to drill holes for the piers for the bridge," said Gary Huffman, project manager for RMCI, Inc., the Albuquerque contractor in charge of the bridge construction. "We'll drill 40 feet or so down to the bedrock to anchor the piers and pour the cement in and add rebar to stabilize them."
The North Animas Pedestrian Bridge will connect to trails leading from North Main Avenue in downtown Aztec and from the Aztec Ruins National Monument on either side of the river just upstream of the Hampton Arroyo.
The 110,000-pound bridge will be shipped from Minnesota in May and assembled on site, Huffman said. Halfway across the river will be two lookout platforms, so pedestrians can stop and take in the view, Huffman said.
"The webbing will be rust-colored steel, which will blend in with the natural colors in this area," Huffman said. "It's going to look really nice and not distract from the natural beauty of this place."
The bridge and trails projects are part of Aztec's ongoing efforts to promote the city's parks, trails and cultural resources, said Ed Kotyk, projects manager for the city.
The bridge and trails are funded through a $424,828 grant provided through the Federal Transit Administration's Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks program.
But the location of the bridge in a flood zone and near unexcavated, underground archaeological sites on the north side of the river has meant far more scrutiny and care than most major urban construction projects.
"We're here to enhance the beauty of the area, not tear it up. We have got to keep the cultural and natural resources preserved for our kids' kids, future generations," Huffman said. "Construction has changed a lot with technology and greater understanding. You used to come in, bring out a bunch of (bulldozers) and get it done. Nowadays, we get to be more sensitive to the area (in which) we're in."
The bridge was originally to be a far simpler. But concerns raised by Larry Turk, parks superintendent for Aztec Ruins and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, last year called for a longer bridge to adjust for the archeological resources throughout the surface and subsurface in the riparian area.
"We have such a sensitive site on the Ruins, or western, side of the river," Huffman said. "We will be staying out of the river area to protect the ecosystem. The project has required a lot of coordination between all parties involved — us, the engineer, the city, the park. It's gone really well."
Part of the care came after a biological assessment listed a variety of plants and wildlife that were to be accounted for and protected before any construction could begin.
"We cleared about 16 or so cottonwood trees that were in the way of the trail (path)," said Gabe Pena, superintendent for RMCI. "We had to have that work completed before the March 15 deadline, when birds like the (Southwestern) willow flycatcher start coming in (the area) to nest."
The breeding season for migratory birds like the flycatcher, an endangered species, generally runs between early March and early September, according to a 2012 biological assessment completed by HDR Engineering, Inc.
"The project's still on schedule," Pena said. "Hopefully, they'll start drilling April 1st."