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Project to replace County Road 5500 bridge goes out to bid

San Juan County seeking bids for work through middle January

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
A San Juan County project to replace the bridge on County Road 5500 that crosses the San Juan River will go out to bid soon.
  • A contract is expected to be awarded for the project during a County Commission meeting in February.
  • Construction on the new bridge is expected to begin soon thereafter.
  • County officials hope to see the project finished by late fall 2021.

FARMINGTON — A San Juan County plan to demolish and replace the crumbling, aging bridge on County Road 5500 near Lee Acres is finally moving forward.

The county will advertise the bidding process seeking contractors for the new bridge in the Sunday, Dec. 6 edition of The Daily Times, according to county spokesman Devin Neeley, and bids will be accepted through Jan. 19, 2021.

Neeley said a contract is expected to be awarded for the project during a County Commission meeting in February, and construction should begin soon thereafter.

County officials have talked about the need to replace the bridge for several years, but it was an engineering report the county received in the summer of 2017 that gave the project a sense of urgency. That report showed the condition of the two-lane bridge — which was constructed in the 1970s by nearby residents and runs over the San Juan River — had deteriorated over the past several years, according to The Daily Times archives.

That prompted county officials to lower the structure's weight limit by almost half, to 13 tons, while prohibiting heavy vehicles. They also installed temporary traffic signals and reduced traffic to a single, alternating lane in March 2018. The speed limit over the bridge also was sharply reduced, from 35 mph to 15 mph.

Motorists cross the one-lane County Road 5500 bridge over the San Juan River on Dec. 3, 2020.

The bridge is located south of U.S. Highway 64 and just southeast of McGee Park.

In August 2018, county commissioners approved a design for a new bridge at a cost of $5 million, according to The Daily Times archives. That design calls for two 12-foot-wide lanes with 4-foot shoulders. The design also features a concrete barrier, a sidewalk and railings. The new bridge would be 49 feet wide and 205 feet in length.

A press release from the county states the new bridge will be built to contemporary standards and will be 4 feet higher than the old structure to make it less susceptible to high river flows and flooding.

Neeley declined to say whether the county's estimated cost for the new bridge has increased since that 2018 design was approved, but the project is already fully funded, the press release states. San Juan County has received $2.4 million in capital outlay funding for the project from the state Legislature, and additional funding from the New Mexico Department of Transportation. The county has allocated bond funding for the balance.

"We're excited to be moving forward with the project," Neeley said.

Neeley provided statistics from the Farmington Metropolitan Planning Organization that showed traffic counts on County Road 5500 have varied widely over the past several years. In 2015, the road was seeing an average of a little more than 2,400 vehicles a day, but by 2017, that figure had increased substantially, jumping to a daily average of more 4,400 vehicles.

Construction on a new bridge on County Road 5500 over the San Juan River is expected to start in the spring and is slated for completion late fall 2021.

Since then, traffic counts have declined. In 2018, the average daily count was 3,458, and in 2019, it was 3,351.

Neeley pointed out the decrease coincides with the installation of the temporary traffic signals, the prohibition against heavy vehicles and the reduction in traffic to one lane on the bridge.

More:Commission approves design for County Road 5500 bridge

"Presumably, that resulted in the observed decrease in (traffic) from 2017 to 2018 as intended," he wrote in an email to The Daily Times.

County officials estimate the construction will take approximately nine months. One lane of alternating traffic will remain open while the work takes place, but motorists will need to be aware of potential construction delays, according to the press release.

The project is slated for completion in late fall of 2021.

Traffic on County Road 5500 has declined significantly since heavy vehicles were prohibited from crossing the road's aging bridge over the San Juan River.

County officials originally hoped to begin construction after they approved the new design in 2018. But Neeley said the surveying, engineering and design elements of the project took longer than expected. He said when NMDOT provided additional funding for the project, the money came with a more stringent set of requirements for how the process would be conducted.

Anyone seeking more information about the project and the bidding process can visit SJCounty.net.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.