By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
The New Mexico Department of Transportation held a public meeting Tuesday to discuss proposed $16 million improvements to four miles of U.S. Highway 54 from Interstate 40 to just north of Tucumcari.
Representative of the NMDOT and Wilson and Company Engineering, out of Albuquerque, outlined three possible improvements projects for U.S. 54 to residents and local officials at Tucumcari City Hall.
The improvements would include replacement of the four off- and on-ramps on I-40, the widening of the highway to four lanes (plus turning lane) from the truck stops to the overpass on U.S. 54.
This project will also include building sidewalks on both sides of the highway, the installation of lights along the stretch of highway from I-40 to Route 66 and drainage improvements.
The main purpose of these improvements is to reduce the congestion caused by commercial vehicles exiting and entering I-40 along U.S. 54 (South Mountain Road), said Chris Perea, Wilson and Company.
Perea said traffic studies conducted along that stretch of road shows more than 4,000 vehicles traveling the road daily. He said a large portion of the traffic comprises commercial vehicles stopping at the two fuel stations.
Perea said widening of the highway and the addition of lights will help increase traveler safety on that section of road. He said the additional lanes north of the fuel stations will help ease the traffic flow.
“Commercial vehicles take a longer time to build up speed,” Perea said. “The additional lanes will allow commercial vehicles to stay and one lane allowing an eased flow of traffic for the passenger cars.”
How long until the construction begins and how long will it take to complete, asked Quay County Commission Chair Franklin McCasland.
Perea said depending on the available funding the project would be done in phases. He said an environmental survey has yet to completed and additional input from residents will be considered in choosing which plan will be used.
“We are taking into consideration several variables when it comes to this project,” Perea said. “That includes impacts on businesses and residents along the highway.”
Perea said there is a concern on a section of the highway near Route 66 that narrows to 80 feet. He said fitting the proposed changes into this section will be a task.
Following the surveys, completion of studies and selection of construction plans the construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 and will take six years to complete.
Residents voiced their concerns about the removal of rumble strips along the highway and the possibility of reducing the speed limit while in town.
“I want to thank the NMDOT and Wilson and Company for coming out to speak with the residents and business owners,” said City Manager Jared Langenegger, who explained that any improvements or work on this section of highway impacts the lively hood of the city and its residents. He said the project will also bring in revenue to the area through sales and gross receipt taxes.