Work could begin two years from now on one of the largest New Mexico Department of Transportation projects in recent memory: the $46 million modernization of the always-busy I-25/Montgomery Boulevard interchange.
“We had our kick-off meetings for this one in late August,” reports Jill Mosher, assistant district engineer with NMDOT.
“We talked with our technical support group, giving them a high level vision of what the project is all about, and working on our scheduling with them,” Mosher continues.
What the project is all about, by almost anyone’s definition, is size and efficiency: how to manage a massive undertaking that is going to make life easier for the hundreds of thousands of drivers who use the interchange every day.
Part of a larger 460-mile highway that runs north to south from upper Wyoming to southern New Mexico, I-25 is one of the most extensive and busy interstates in the West, providing ready access to Santa Fe, Raton, Truth or Consequences, and Las Cruces, and replacing the old U.S. 85 that went the same route.
But it’s when the highway pushes through Albuquerque, which saw the initial work on a four-lane concrete I-25 launched in the ancient year of 1958, that the congestion really starts.
According to a report released in January of this year by the National Transportation Research Group, just under 40 hours annually in driving time are lost to congestion on the I-25 in Albuquerque, along with other routes in the metro area.
While the NMDOT has been upgrading and widening sections of I-25 in phases, the I-25/Montgomery interchange is regarded by almost everyone as the perhaps the most important link in trying to get highway traffic to flow more smoothly as it pushes through and intersects with a growing part of the city.
“It very much is going to be a big project,” acknowledges Mosher, who notes that the interchange work will also be a continuation of widening and improvement projects beginning with the Paseo del Norte Interchange reconstruction.
The larger effort has also seen I-25 lanes ready to go between Jefferson Street and San Antonio Drive.
Design and analysis for the Jefferson/San Antonio segment began in early 2016 with construction starting in January of 2017 and wrapping up this summer.
The Jefferson to San Antonio segment included a widening of the I-25 roadway, building an additional off ramp heading onto San Antonio Drive; the widening of the I-25 bridge over San Mateo Street, and the widening of the southbound I-25 roadway, adding yet a fourth lane between Jefferson and San Antonio.
That $9.5 million project additionally included the building of intelligent transportation system infrastructure and overhead signage, among other features.
Work will launch on the pivotal I-25/Montgomery interchange in either late 2020 or early 2021, and will in many ways be a project that in its essence is responding to historic population shifts in the city.
Located about 5 miles to the northeast of downtown Albuquerque, the I-25/Montgomery interchange feeds into and serves one of the fastest-growing parts of the city, an area of ever-newer commercial properties, large multi-family homes, and even larger multi-family apartment complexes.
At the same time, I-25 itself travels through a city that has also seen its own overall population grow from 384,000 just a little over two decades ago to nearly 560,000 in 2017, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.
Officials with the Mid-Region Council of Governments, looking at an additional likely increase of more than 200,000 people in the next generation, are crafting a metropolitan transportation plan, the purpose of which is to take into account the various population shifts in an effort to comprise a transportation blueprint realistically reflecting those changes.
That plan is officially called Connections 2040 and has been the subject of several public information meetings this fall.
“The idea is to look at the population centers where people are working or could be working, and see what are the developments in those areas, so that traffic models can then be done,” explains Mosher.
“From that point on,” adds Mosher, “we’ll get a better feel for what kind of projects we need to take on as we go forward.”
By Garry Boulard
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