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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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.