AZTEC — Aztec's arterial road project, which would relieve heavy truck traffic on Main Avenue, was stymied this week.

Despite paying nearly $1 million for pre-construction work for the 3.6-mile bypass road, the Federal Highway Administration told city officials funding would be withheld.

"The federal highway department looked at it and said, 'Your road just ends in the middle of nowhere,'" said Ed Kotyk, Aztec's projects manager.

The planned four-lane road would begin at U.S. Highway 550 and Navajo Dam Road and arc east around downtown before reconnecting with Highway 550 just south of the city at Pepsi Way.

The current estimated cost for the project is $12 million.

The project -- one that officials say is a top priority for the city -- was started more than a decade ago. But the city has not been able to pay the total project cost at once.

"We can't just get $12 million to build the whole road, so we have to break it up into smaller pieces," Kotyk said. "It's been frustrating because our project has shifted so many times. We're trying to make the project fit with what funding's available."

Earlier this year, the state's Department of Transportation told city officials $2 million would go toward Phase 2B of the project -- road construction from Pepsi Way to Williams Arroyo. With the transportation department's help, the city sent the funding proposal to the Federal Highway Administration for final approval. But a problem surfaced over the road segment's stretch to Williams Arroyo, approximately a half mile east of the intersection of Pepsi Way and Main Avenue.

"DOT made available $2 million for Phase 2B, which was going to get us across the arroyo, but then we were told that a construction easement was required to span the arroyo," Kotyk said.

The land east of the city is primarily owned by the state, and about 6 percent is privately owned. The easement -- permission to access land outside the planned corridor -- would allow the city to use land outside the 150-foot-wide right-of-way for the road. The need for the easement stems from the arroyo, which would demand additional land on either side of the roadway for maintenance and water flow to stop the road from eroding or washing out.

With the latest attempted phase of the project on hold for a year, city officials will have two avenues to try to navigate.

"This winter, we'll be contacting the state's land office to ensure all our paperwork is complete and that should hold us over for another year," said Kathy Lamb, the city's finance director. "We'll have to take a hard look at it and find a way because it's not like $12 million is going to magically appear."

With each year, cost estimates for the entire project rise, and studies and reports required for funding approval need to be updated.

Despite the constant frustrations, snags and surprises, Kotyk knows the project must get done.

"They want the road to end at something. That would work if we had 12 million at once," Kotyk said. "What can we do? We want and need to build it, but we can only do it 150 feet at a time. It's a whole argument of the egg and the chicken -- which comes first?"

MORE INFO

For more information on the arterial road project, go to aztecnm.gov/plans/projects.htm.

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.