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Aztec bypass faces delay as state conducts review

About 2½ miles of the nearly 4-mile bypass remain to be completed
The U.S. Highway 550 entrance of the East Aztec Arterial project may remain closed for a while. (David Edward Albright/Durango Herald)

The East Aztec Arterial project could face delays as the New Mexico Department of Transportation conducts another design review, according to Aztec City Manager Jeff Blackburn.

“The right of way for was certified last week, and NMDOT is reviewing the 90% design again, Blackburn said. “We are hoping to be within PS&E (plans, specifications and estimates) in the spring of this year.”

“NMDOT is reviewing the complete design set of the overall project to be sure that nothing was missed,” he said.

The long-awaited bypass, which has been in the works for more than two decades, will alleviate noise, pollution, danger and rattling of buildings on Main Street in Aztec.

About 2½ miles of the nearly 4-mile bypass remain to be completed, at an estimated cost of $18 million. Blackburn is hopeful that estimates will remain within this figure despite increased inflation.

Blackburn said the utilities and right of way have been approved, but there was an issue with a pipeline relocation. He said the issue of the pipeline relocation wouldn’t slow down the project.

He stated that “90% review” is an indicator that the design is almost complete except for questions that may be found in the review.

Blackburn explained the next steps for the project will be additional NMDOT questions and answers from the engineer and the city of Aztec.

View of designated arterial route under further review. (David Edward Albright/Durango Herald)

“After the review, NMDOT will submit questions to the engineer and the city,” he wrote. Answers to their questions will be provided, but there can be more than one round of questions and sometimes the answers create more questions, he said.

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Once the questions are answered the project will be 100% approved.

“I have instructed staff not to set hard dates due to the variables that we continue to encounter,” Blackburn shared. He said spring was his best estimate, “and even that may be optimistic, regarding the timetable for moving ahead.”

Pipeline relocation issue may not slow the progress.

“The relocation falls with the right of way we have already secured. We are just working out the details to be sure BLM is informed. We are confident this will be worked out before construction,” Blackburn stated.

He expressed a strong desire for no further delays, but said they did not anticipate that there would be an extensive review of the plan set.

“We understand that considering the amount of time the design has taken that a thorough review could prevent problems later. Like so many, the staff and I are anxious, too, and would love to break ground right now,” Blackburn said.

Local business owners have grown weary of the limited progess and impatiently seek a downtown atmosphere that will bring more parades and events, more foot traffic and a safer, more walkable Main Street.