Lumpy highway project will cost NMDOT $4.2 million to fix

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An expensive New Mexico road project is off to a bumpy start. It is supposed to make a New Mexico highway safer, but drivers say the state has spent a lot of money for a road that’s bumpy and dangerous.

People who live near Highway 41 have noticed something is wrong.

“A lot of people are concerned, you know. Is it gonna stay like that?” Chris Watts of Glorieta asked.

“They find it alarming. It’s dangerous,” said Roger Taylor, president of the Galisteo Community Association.

The state’s $22-million reconstruction project to make the highway safer in Santa Fe County has run into a few bumps in the road.

“Very, very bumpy,” Taylor said. “It’s like going over rumble strips.”

“Please come back and fix it,” Watts said.

Signs warn of road work for 12 miles, starting near Stanley and going north to Galisteo. 

The highway is kind of a shortcut for drivers east of Albuquerque to get to Santa Fe without using the interstates. However, since crews re-did the asphalt there, some drivers told KRQE that they’re considering taking the long way.

Signs have to alert drivers to slow down for rough areas. We even saw some cars and trucks trying to drive around the rippling road by going into the opposite lane of traffic.

KRQE sat down with New Mexico Transportation Secretary Michael Sandoval to find out where the construction on this highway went wrong.

“We’ll have to mitigate this problem over the next few months,” Sandoval said.

On top of adding wider shoulders, Sandoval said one of the project’s goals was to level out the blind hills that Highway 41 was notorious for, to make it easier for drivers to see what’s ahead.The problem came, though, when testing the soil to get ready for construction. 

The Transportation Department says not enough samples were taken to discover that the soil near the surface turned out to be a lot different than the soil deep beneath some of the hills. 

“The soil at that particular level, mixed with the water and some of the other elements, caused it to expand and contract and that’s what caused the rippling in the road,” Sandoval explained.

Rippling in 15 different areas, he said, after New Mexico’s wet winter.

More soil sampling would have come at a cost.

“In retrospect, do you wish that soil had been tested?” KRQE asked the Transportation Secretary.

“I think it’s a judgment call,” Sandoval replied. “I think, had we tested that soil and invested another $500,000 to invest in the soil and it had been perfectly fine, people could have come back and said, ‘Well, why did you do that? That was $500,000 that you didn’t need to spend.’” 

What the state hoped would save money, now will cost taxpayers an extra $4.2 million to re-do.

“You know the old saying, you get what you paid for? Well, that’s a shame,” Watts said.

To fix the bumpy stretches of road, the Transportation Department says crews will have to take out the asphalt, bring in new soil and then re-do the asphalt.

A spokesperson says that work is expected to begin on Tuesday at 7 a.m.

Crews will start on the southern portion of the highway project and work their way north.

Despite the problems with the project, Watts said he is happy the highway is finally getting a much-needed upgrade.

The Department of Transportation says construction is expected to finish in July or August.

The community is just hoping things go a lot more smoothly from here on out.

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