By Christina Calloway
Nearly a year behind its projected end date, U.S. 70 reconstruction project officials are eyeing the end of September as the project’s completion date and city officials pledge to do whatever they can to expedite the process.
In what may be one of the longest projects the state has ever been involved with, New Mexico Department of Transportation Assistant Project Manager Pat Garcia said he’s wishing there was more the state can do to speed up the near three-year project but due to weather conditions and communication issues, the project has taken its toll on the Portales community.
Garcia is a native of the area and is set to retire after the project’s completion.
“It is a very long process and it’s unfortunate we got caught up in delays that we weren’t able to overcome quickly,” said Garcia of the $8.3 million project. “I’m glad to see the rain come in but it comes to a point where we need to get this project done and move on. I’ve not heard of any other project that has taken this long. We’ve run into every delay we could find.”
The project was bid out by the state to Constructors, Inc. of Roswell and Garcia said it is normal practice for the highway department to go with the lower bid.
With Portales officials having little to no say on the project’s development, it’s been difficult for city officials who have had to field complaints from both residents and business owners about the project, which has left streets torn up and restricted the highway to one lane in several areas since May 2012.
Garcia said in the future he hopes the state will make better decisions in selecting a contractor for projects.
Public Works Director John DeSha said there has been a lack of communication and coordination with Constructors, Inc. officials even though its Project Manager John Guldemann maintains communication has been good.
DeSha said complaints from citizens include flooding issues for businesses on Main and Avenue A between First and Second streets. DeSha said now water collects in a different area than it previously did that has upset business owners and consumers alike.
“We’re doing everything we can to help them along,” DeSha said.
For each day the project is behind, Garcia said Constructors, Inc. will be subject to a $2,700 a day penalty per the contract.
Guldemann said there are at least a month and a half of working days left for his crew.
Guldemann said working in the small, confined areas his crews are in now, there’s little they can do when it rains.
“You kind of have to let time take over,” Guldemann said. “It needs to dry out to be workable.”
Guldemann said the plan is for work to resume Monday depending on if the area sees any rainfall this weekend.
Guldemann feels communication has been good with both the city and citizens.
“If there’s local businesses that we’ve affected, no one in Portales has been shy in telling us they have a problem,” Guldemann said. “We try our best to accommodate them.”
He added due to the length of the project, communication is low impact between his group and the city.
Do Drop In owner Ian Mountjoy said communication has been terrible with the construction group and congestion in the area has slowed down business in the afternoons.
“It’ been a pain,” Mountjoy said. “I have no idea what’s going on.”
The stoplights on First and Second Street off Main are expected to be repaired within the next month, according to Guldemann. But Mountjoy said there’s an immediate need to repair them because he’s witnessed at least four accidents at the intersection in front of his business.
David Stone said while construction around his J.P. Stone Community Bank on Abilene between First and Second streets has inconvenienced his customers, he isn’t going to complain about the rain he received.
“For three years I’ve been praying for rain. I’m thanking the Lord that we got our rain,” Stone said.