Aztec breaks ground on arterial route

Hannah Grover
A bulldozer moves dirt July 14 during preparation work for the new truck bypass route south of Aztec.

AZTEC – Officials hope the East Aztec Arterial Route will be finished in the next couple of years.

The project has been more than a decade in the making, and its southern phase is now under construction. The city expects that phase to be completed next year.

Aztec broke ground on the southern phase, located across from Pepsi Way, on Monday during a ceremony that drew a small crowd, including local officials.

“It’s exciting now that there’s ground moving on the project,” City Manager Joshua Ray said during an interview Tuesday afternoon.

The initial phase of the project will cost approximately $4.4 million. Part of the money for that work is coming from the state's capital outlay bill.

The bill, passed during a special session in June, brought in $7 million for projects in San Juan County. The largest allocation was $1.5 million to the city of Aztec for the arterial route.

Ray said the capital outlay funding is unique because local state representatives and senators came together to pool funds for several large projects throughout the county.

"It shows them saying, 'San Juan County first,'" Ray said.

Sen. Steven Neville and Rep. Paul Bandy attended the groundbreaking event on Monday. In an interview Wednesday, Bandy said he was glad to see the project had been started.

"I hope they can get a lot done before the snow flies," he said.

Bandy and Neville said the arterial route is important because of safety in downtown Aztec. They both cited an incident in June 2012 when a toddler died after he ran out into traffic and was run over by a semi-trailer.

Safety is only one of the reasons local politicians say the city needs to direct heavy truck traffic from the downtown area.

“It’s destroying the foundations of the buildings,” Neville said.

Bandy echoed that sentiment, saying the trucks shake the old brick buildings.

While the new route will redirect traffic, Neville said he does not think it will negatively impact downtown businesses. He explained that the bypass will not be a convenient route for cars.

The majority of work on the initial phase likely will be delayed due to weather, but city officials anticipate that phase 1B will be completed next year.

Ray expects the city to start on the final phase of the project in March 2017. The final phase will connect phase 1B with phase 1A, which is a short section of road that will connect to Navajo Dam Road and U.S. Highway 550 north of Aztec.

Higher-than-expected submissions caused a delay in the start of the project when the city sent the project out to bid. Then, submissions for the rebid came back higher than the initial bid. That is a pattern the city has been seeing with the majority of its project bids, Ray said.

Initial estimates put the project's cost at $3.5 million, but the final bid came in at $4.4 million.

Because of that, Ray said the city is planning on spending more than it initially projected for the next phase. He said initial estimates put the connecting phase cost at $5 million, but he now thinks it could cost approximately $7 million to complete the final phase.

“We still don’t even know how much it is going to cost,” Ray said.

Once construction has started on the middle phase of the arterial route, Ray said it will take approximately 18 months before the arterial route is completed.

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