As San Juan County population declines, transportation plans change from growth to outdoor rec

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
A map is placed on a table, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, of the Farmington Metropolitan Planning Organization boundaries.

KIRTLAND — As population declines in San Juan County, many of the previous plans for new roads may not be needed, according to a county official. 

Some of the past plans may need to change because the population is not growing at the pace previously anticipated, according to Nick Porell, the county Public Works director who is also a member of the Farmington Metropolitan Planning Organization's technical committee.

Porell attended a public outreach meeting on Oct. 17. This meeting was intended to gain community input about the future of transportation.

The Farmington Metropolitan Planning Organization is a regional transportation planning group that includes New Mexico Department of Transportation, San Juan County, Aztec, Farmington, Bloomfield and Kirtland. Every five years, it creates a transportation plan that looks forward more than two decades. It is currently developing a plan looking forward to 2045.

A new look at how to spend for the future

Members of the MPO technical committee as well as representatives from local municipalities and businesses met with Bohannon Houston, Inc. — the contractor hired to develop the plan — to discuss the future of transportation.

Toward the end of the meeting, Aaron Sussman, a planner with Bohannan Huston Inc., said one unifying theme he noticed was the interest in infrastructure that would promote outdoor recreation.

Nick Porell participates in a transportation planning meeting, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Kirtland.

The last plan — developed in 2014 and 2015 — projected a 40 percent increase in population by 2040 — but that projection will likely not be the reality.

"That was probably at the crescendo of our local economy," said Porell, who represents the county on the technical committee.

Dump new roads, improve what's here?

Current trends show populations decreasing in San Juan County and there is economic uncertainty on the horizon, according to Porell. He highlighted the future of the San Juan Generating Station as well as the City of Farmington’s efforts to grow an outdoor recreation-based economy.

That means projects like a proposed northern road that would connect Farmington and Aztec may not be needed, Porell said. In addition, he said that north road could be detrimental to the plans for outdoor recreation in the Glade Run Recreation Area. He suggested removing that from the plans for future roads.

Instead of building new roads, Porell said the region may want to focus on improving existing infrastructure and promoting multi-modal transportation — or making it easier for pedestrians, equestrians and bicyclists to navigate the roadways.

Sussman said the long-term plans that were created a few years ago to support additional growth can be removed from this updated plan. The funds for those projects could then be reallocated to projects like access management, safety projects and recreation.

"You've reframed the lack of growth as an opportunity to ... reinvest in the infrastructure that you have and support other types of activity," Sussman said.

U.S. Highway 64 is pictured, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Kirtland.

Bike lanes discussed for Kirtland

In terms of Kirtland, Porell said bike lanes are needed on one of the county roads either north or south of U.S. Highway 64. These bike lanes would connect the Town of Kirtland to the City of Farmington. He proposed County Road 6100 or County Road 6480 for the bike lanes.

Another project that could help Kirtland become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly would be access control to businesses along U.S. Highway 64. Porell said that could also reduce the number of crashes in the corridor running through Kirtland.

In other areas of the county, Porell highlighted New Mexico Highway 173 as needing safety improvements especially as the community promotes outdoor recreation. The highway connects Aztec with Navajo Lake.

Bohannon Houston is seeking additional input on the transportation plan. There will be meetings on Oct. 18 in Bloomfield and Farmington and people can also submit comments online at

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at

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