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AZTEC — Construction on the first section of a five-mile bypass that would divert traffic from downtown is expected to begin within the next month.

The City Commission unanimously approved a bid of nearly $4 million by Oldecastle SW Group Inc. for phase 1b of the East Aztec Arterial Route during a meeting Tuesday evening. The first phase will construct a road less than a mile long that will start south of the city near the Microtel Inn and Suites and end east of the Williams Arroyo.

The city rejected a virtually identical bid by Oldcastle SW Group Inc. in March, citing costs when the bid came in at approximately $500,000 more than the city had budgeted to spend. The city put the project out to bid again this spring.

The city received two bids during the second process — one from Oldcastle SW Group Inc. and the other from Crossfire LLC. Oldcastle SW Group Inc.'s bid was the lower of the two bids.

"We were hopeful that we would be able to save some money," city engineer William Watson said prior to Tuesday's meeting, explaining the city's rationale for going through the process a second time.

City Manager Josh Ray said if the city had rejected the second bid, the project would have been delayed at least another 90 days.

The project is partially funded by money the city received through the capital outlay bill, which passed during a special legislative session in June. The state awarded Aztec $1.5 million to use for its arterial route.

After turning down the initial bid from Oldecastle, the city purchased the fill dirt that would be necessary for the project from Aztec developer Sam Blue. That dirt is now located on a hill across the highway from the southern entrance to the arterial route.

That placement will allow the contractor to transport the dirt only a short distance rather than trucking it through the downtown, which was the plan in the original bid.

Watson said that is the main difference between the two bids.

"Unfortunately, we just lost some time," he said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.

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