By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
A U.S. 70 reconstruction project official says project that has limited access to businesses by reducing the highway to one-lane roads for more than a year is far from being complete.
The most recent prediction for an end-date to this $8.3 million project that is said to increase the life of the city’s main throughway was November, but New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Pat Garcia says the project could move well into 2014.
Garcia, NMDOT’s project manager on this project, said the project was scheduled to be complete this August.
The project is currently in its first two phases, which cover the highway from Eastern New Mexico University to the downtown area.
“We want to finish up between (avenues) C and K and turn it loose to the public. We should have been done by the end of May but weather just kind of held us back,” Garcia said.
Garcia says Constructors, Inc., has used 185 of the 300 calendar days in its contract. He added the time used does not reflect the days they weren’t able to work due to weather.
Garcia says the contractor will be charged $1,200 a day for each day the project exceeds the 300-day limit.
John Guldeman, project manager for Constructors, Inc., did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment.
Garcia says that hundreds of thousands of dollars may be added to the $8.3 million price tag of the project so that they can expedite it through the downtown area. They plan to do so by adding lime or cement to the subgrade of the road so that rain and other weather conditions won’t continue to prolong the project.
“We want to make sure we have the best possible game plan to make sure we get in and out as fast as possible and have the least amount of impact from the rain,” Garcia said. “This will help stabilize any kind of soft spots or wet spots in the subgrade and in the sidewalk areas. If we do get a downfall, it won’t hurt us as bad.”
Garcia predicts the materials for the subgrade to cost between $7 to 15 per square yard for the 30,000 square yards needed to finish the project.
“We’re hoping it’s not that much. We’re hoping it could be very minimal,” Garcia said. “Right now it’s going to be a negotiation price between the state and the contractor to go ahead and try to get through this project. We have no drainage and that hurts us but we’re trying to do the best we can with the money that we have.”
Garcia added he does not anticipate the city to pay for the extra material and that the additional money, if needed, will come from state and federal funds.
Dawg Houze bar owner Chad Heflin says project officials have accommodated his needs and provided access to his business on West Second Street, but questions the longevity of the project.
“It’s taking forever. It’s still taking longer than expected,” said Heflin, who’s had limited access to his business since last summer. “Everything they could control for me, they did, but it’s still ongoing.”
Heflin says as the project moves on, he expects businesses in the downtown area to be impacted during the holiday shopping season and he doesn’t feel the project is worth the payoff.
“This last year-and-a-half, it’s been hard on business and now downtown will get a taste of it,” he said. “The hardships that businesses went through are not going to warrant the new streets.”
Rosalie Richards, owner of Hestands Floral on West Second Street, says when the project began there was a lot of miscommunication but ties between her business and project officials got better.
“Initially they had told me that there would be access to the front of the store but they kept blocking off the road,” Richards said.
Garcia says he feels he has a responsibility to make sure business owners are happy and the job is complete despite multiple problems since the project’s inception.“We don’t want to just come through here and do sub-standard work and go on,” Garcia said. “And myself being from here, that’s not going to happen. When this contractor leaves, I still have to live here.”
U.S. 70: Long road ahead
By Christina Calloway