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New Mexico DOT Reconstructs NM 68 and US 64 in Taos

by: Mark Bird
El Terrero Construction, LLC uses a Volvo excavator on the NM 68/U.S. 64 project in Taos, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of El Terrero Construction, LLC)
El Terrero Construction, LLC uses a Volvo excavator on the NM 68/U.S. 64 project in Taos, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of El Terrero Construction, LLC)
Photo courtesy of El Terrero Construction, LLC
Photo courtesy of El Terrero Construction, LLC
Photo courtesy of El Terrero Construction, LLC
Photo courtesy of El Terrero Construction, LLC
Photo courtesy of El Terrero Construction, LLC
Photo courtesy of El Terrero Construction, LLC
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Department of Transportation
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Department of Transportation
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Department of Transportation
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Department of Transportation
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Department of Transportation
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Department of Transportation
The town of Taos, New Mexico, and neighboring Taos Pueblo – which is designated as both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site – attract thousands of visitors each year. Currently under construction is one of the largest road projects in Taos history – the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) NM 68/U.S. 64 Project.

This stretch of roadway, which encompasses NM 68 in the Town of Taos and U.S. 64 in Taos Pueblo, not only serves as a highway but is also the major north-south route through the historic area – which is a popular tourist destination year-round – providing access to the Taos Plaza, Taos Historic District and Taos Pueblo.

As NMDOT Secretary Michael Sandoval commented, "The Taos area is a unique and special place. It is a sought-after destination for many travelers and a cherished place to live, work, and play. State Road 68/U.S. Highway 64 deserves some much-needed attention. The result will provide a safe, reliable route for all."

Both the state road and the federal highway were built decades ago. As the Town of Taos and Taos Pueblo have grown up around the roadway, challenges have arisen. Sidewalks are inadequate or missing, and a lack of drainage in some areas leads to flooding from stormwater flows. Meandering intersections present geometries which are unsafe due to inadequate sight lines. Free left turns throughout the corridor create traffic congestion during busy tourist seasons. In addition, most areas are not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible, and the roadway is difficult to impossible for bicyclists to use.

The $21.9 million project has several stated purposes. Construction has to maintain and safely manage business, tourist, resident, and pedestrian access along the corridor, manage stormwater flows, correct roadway geometry deficiencies, and provide safer, better-connected bicycling and pedestrian facilities. The project, which is being paid for with a combination of state and federal funds, is projected to wrap up in late 2023.

NM 68, also known as Paseo del Pueblo Sur, stretches from La Posta Road to Kit Carson Street. Plans call for widening the roadway from three to four lanes in some areas, while other three-lane roadway portions will be reconstructed. Center medians will be built to control left-hand turns in some areas to reduce congestion.

The northern end of the project, U.S. 64, also known as Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, stretches from Kit Carson Street to Camino De La Placita/Rivali Lane. This section has a narrower roadway with only two lanes. The roadway in one part of Paseo Del Pueblo Norte will have pavement reconstructed, while the other part will have pavement rehabilitated.

Also included in the project is the realignment of four major intersections to provide better sight lines, thus enhancing safety, and the construction of new storm drainage pipelines with extended concrete box culverts where the roadway is being widened.

El Terrero Construction, LLC, based in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, was selected as the contractor. Other project partners include:

  • Altierra Services
  • Bixby Electric Inc.
  • Cobb, Fendley & Associates, Inc.
  • Desert Fox Paving
  • Hays Plumbing & Heating Inc.
  • San Bar Construction Corp.
  • Souder, Miller & Associates
  • Taos Gravel Products
Multi-Phase Project Aims for Late 2023 Completion
The project was planned in four phases, with each phase having up to five or six sub-phases and, when needed, clearly designated detours. Each phase of the project has been planned to include removal and replacement of the exiting roadway to correct cracks and potholes, new curb and gutter, installing new ADA-compliant sidewalks and new landscaping. Also included is the installation of cross walks in some areas.

Construction on the project began March 16, 2020, and was briefly suspended when COVID-19 first broke out. Construction resumed in early April and crews completed work on the majority of Phase 1 before going into winter suspension in December 2020. Construction resumed in April 2021 with crews partially completing Phase 2 before going into winter suspension again at the end of the year.

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Crews returned to work building Phase 2 of the project, which stretches from the Tewa/Albright Street intersection to the Silver Road/Quesnel intersection, in April 2022. They plan to have Phase 2 completed by the end of this summer.

In the fall, crews will move to Phase 3, which stretches from Quesnel to north of Civic Plaza Drive. This phase includes the Taos Plaza and downtown Taos. Construction on Phase 3 is expected to last through the end of 2022.

The final phase of the project, Phase 4, stretches from north of Civic Plaza Drive to Camino de La Placita. Work on Phase 4 is scheduled to begin in spring 2023 and be completed by the end of that year.

In addition to adding new dedicated bike lanes or bike share lanes, a unique feature of the project is the planned installation of four new bio swales to concentrate and convey storm water runoff while removing debris and pollution. The bio swales will be planted with a mixture of plants, shrubs and trees to create an attractive landscape while safely maximizing the time water spends in the swales to collect and remove pollutants, silt, and debris.

Carefully Designed to Respect Area’s History
While creating a design to address these issues, Albuquerque-based engineering firm Souder Miller & Associates (SMA) and the NMDOT also recognized the importance of maintaining critical aspects related to both the area's history and its charm. Taos Pueblo is an ancient pueblo considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. The Town of Taos dates back to August 29, 1540, when Capitan Hernando Alvarado arrived in Taos Valley for the first time as part of the expedition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. It was incorporated as a municipality on May 7, 1934.

"We wanted to make the necessary improvements while maintaining the historic adobe buildings that house not only the Pueblo, but also the many world-class art galleries and unique local businesses that make Taos a desirable and truly unique destination," explained Paul Brasher, NMDOT District 5 Engineer.

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Construction was planned to begin in the south and work to the north. As part of the contract, El Terrero was prohibited from working on designated Native American feast days, regular Holidays, and during special events such as Taos Pride and the Big Barn Dance Festival.

"Because this is the town's major thoroughfare, it has to remain open on key dates and as accessible as possible throughout the duration of the project," Brasher reported, adding, "We recognize this has been a long project and have really appreciated the patience of residents, businesses and tourists as we work to get it done. We believe it will truly improve the quality of life for everyone who lives in, operates a business in, or travels through Taos.”

Throughout construction, all interested parties are able to sign up for email updates, ask questions or make comments via the Project website.

Weather, Existing Utility Lines Among Construction Challenges
One challenging factor on this project is the local climate. Due to the area's nearly 7,000-foot elevation, weather from December through April is often cold and snow. Thus, construction has to be suspended each year for three to four months. Construction has also been delayed due to the discovery of numerous underground water and other utility lines, as well as a gas line, that were unmarked and were not shown on available as-builts due to the age of the roadway.

"Unfortunately, we don't really know everything that is under the roadway due to its age. Everyone has worked diligently to identify what we can, but several underground lines have caused delays because they had to be relocated to build the project," explained Matt Villalobos, Project Manager for El Terrero.

He adds that Phases 1 and 2 involve the most storm water and drainage work, so construction on Phases 3 and 4 will likely proceed more quickly.

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