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Drivers rejoice: Interstate 25 construction at La Bajada could end ahead of schedule

In World
April 04, 2024

Apr. 3—State officials have good news for motorists who have become weary of driving through construction zones on the La Bajada stretch of Interstate 25.

There’s a light at the end of the project — and it might come sooner than expected.

Rob Gross, project manager and estimator for Mountain States Constructors in Albuquerque, said Wednesday he thinks the roadwork could be done in “late spring, early summer.”

“We feel great about finishing early,” he said.

The reconstruction work — which has caused headaches for drivers, with long traffic delays and sharp increases in speeding tickets for those who don’t slow to the 55 mph limit — started last summer and was initially expected to end in November.

James Murray, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, said the project is “moving ahead of schedule. We can’t complain there. All the hard stuff has been done.”

The last major work is paving the northbound lanes, Gross said.

On any given day of the project, his company has 40 workers on the job.

His crews worked to stabilize the earth and embankment below the pavement to ensure “long-lasting travel up and down La Bajada,” Gross said.

“Motorists can expect a smooth ride for a long time,” he added.

Murray said in an interview last year the work was necessary to stabilize the roadway and improve drainage systems along the route, where intense rainstorms can lead to “crumbling.”

The project, which has been in the planning stages for several years, was expected to come in under budget, at around $40 million, Murray said.

While it is standard practice to fine construction companies that don’t finish road projects on time, Murray said he wasn’t certain if there are any perks for those that finish work early.

La Bajada can be one of the most challenging sections of I-25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque and is well-known to commuters traveling between the cities. The affected area is a three-mile stretch just north of Santo Domingo Pueblo.

When the work is complete, the repaved, expanded section of highway will have three northbound lanes and two southbound lanes, with wider shoulders on each side.

“It will be very nice once it’s redone and open,” Murray said.

New Mexico State Police initiated speed enforcement operations in the construction zone to mitigate dangerous driving practices and prevent crashes, some of which have been deadly and many that have caused hourslong bottlenecks.

State police spokesman Wilson Silver wrote in email the agency has issued 2,127 traffic citations in the La Bajada area of I-25 since the start of the project.

The agency responded to 23 reports of crashes during the construction phase, he wrote.

Murray said there could be a some delays along the stretch this week due to lane closures as workers repair and upgrade guardrails along the Waldo exit of I-25.

A one-lane closure on the southbound side will start at 7 a.m. and end at 3 p.m., he said, and a one-lane closure on the northbound side will start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. through Friday.

The original road across La Bajada, west of I-25, was built in the 1920s as part of the Route 66 highway system but has a much longer history as part of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.

The rugged, switchback dirt road down a deep slope is now closed to traffic.

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