NMDOT delays two local road projects

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Department of Transportation is delaying two multi-million-dollar road projects aimed at alleviating traffic.

Work continues on the East Aztec Arterial Route on Friday south of Aztec, though state transportation officials announced recently that completion of the project would be delayed.

The Piñon Hills Boulevard Extension Project and the East Aztec Arterial Route will be delayed for a couple of years. The Piñon Hills Boulevard Extension Project would connect Crouch Mesa with East Main Street in Farmington while the arterial route would redirect heavy truck traffic around downtown Aztec.

Stephen Lopez, who represents NMDOT on the Farmington Metropolitan Policy Organization's policy committee, told the committee during a Thursday meeting that the state had decided to delay the projects. He cited concerns about rights of way for the Piñon Hills Boulevard extension and environmental concerns about the middle section of the East Aztec Arterial Route as reasons for the delays.

When reached by phone Friday, David Sypher, the Farmington Public Works director, said the city will be working to get the project "shovel ready." He explained that the city acquired property in 2000 before funding was received for the project. Because of that, the city had not met the strict criteria for right of way acquisition and will now be working to get that approval.

Sypher said the immediate funding was removed by NMDOT, and the city will be looking for additional funding sources.

The city had been hoping to start the project in the spring of 2017.

The news about the East Aztec Arterial Route comes as the city is preparing to pave the southern end of the route, which is intended to create a bypass around downtown Aztec. The middle section of the route goes through a former landfill, which has led to the environmental concerns. The city approved the acquisition of the landfill from the Bureau of Land Management in June to try to prevent delays in the project. At the time, City Manager Josh Ray told the City Commission that acquiring the property would allow the city to meet less-stringent state requirements rather than federal requirements.

The intersection of Piñon Hills Boulevard and East Main Street is located at one end of the planned  Piñon Hills Boulevard Extension Project.

The north and south ends of the route have been finished, and City Commissioner Sherri Sipe, who is also on the MPO policy committee, expressed frustration about the delay.

“It’s crazy that we’re having to change things now,” Sipe said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.