AZTEC — Aztec commissioners on Tuesday approved spending nearly $25,000 out of this year's annual budget to pay for engineering services for a small portion of the ongoing East Aztec Arterial Route project.
Started in 2008, the $12 million project has endured multiple roadblocks -- most of them budgetary -- and has been cut into piecemeal sections as a result.
Along the way, city officials have faced a number of challenges. Pedestrians say that crossing the congested Main Avenue -- for which the route would offer relief -- is dicey, and historic buildings continue to crumble from the vibrations caused by truck traffic.
The planned route would bypass northbound traffic around the historic downtown corridor with an eastern bypass road. City officials are eager to complete the project to relieve Main Avenue, which is U.S. Highway 550.
The recently approved funds would pay for engineering work completed since August, as well as additional work yet to be completed by the firm in charge of the phase, Wilson and Company, Inc.
The money also comes with a new agreement between the city and Wilson to simplify the communication process between the engineering firm and two subcontractors involved with the project -- Souder, Miller and Associates and Sugnet Moore Environmental Consultants.
City officials have said they feel blindsided by federal demands, like a recent requirement that the city develop a stretch of Legion Road east of the Aztec Speedway to ensure federal funding for the latest section of the project.
The U.S. Department of Transportation stunned city officials in August when they were told that Phase 1B would require a terminating point in order for federal money -- more than $3 million -- to be released.
This phase of the project is a small portion of the route. It extends three quarters of a mile off of U.S. Highway 550 at the south end of the city and leads to or near the Wilson arroyo, near where Legion Road will have to intersect.
The city has until March to complete a new right-of-way and environmental work and submit it to the state's transportation department.
"Part of the frustration in this project has been that we don't have the full amount of $12 million to just build the road all at once," said Ed Kotyk, the city's projects manager. "So, as we proceed in these phases, we have new conditions pop up or environmental studies and survey work we've already done expire and have to be redone. The whole design of the arterial is done, but we have to keep going by chopping up the work, and environmental work only lasts a couple years. Also, when the project keeps dragging on, it keeps incurring costs."
Kotyk said he is also frustrated by slow response from the state land office, to which he and Finance Director Kathy Lamb have sent maps, drawing sets and other supporting documents last month, with little or no response.
"The land the arterial is on is owned by the land office, which hasn't been the most responsive entity, but we're hopeful," Kotyk said.
The earliest construction might begin on Phase 1B is in October 2014, Kotyk said.
"The longer time goes on, it gets incredibly complicated," he said. "It's a highly frustrating experience, but this is the No. 1 priority project for the city and has to get done. When? We'll have to see."