State’s challenge: Improving NM 434 without sacrificing character

Second meeting planned for Thursday (Feb. 2) in Mora

Radian Engineering – Project Manager Carlos Padilla (left) visits with Robin May (black jacket) and Mike Martinez (green jacket) about NM Highway 434. (Chronicle photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

Of the small few who attended the first Public Information Meeting for the NM 434 Corridor Study Jan. 11 at the Angel Fire Community Center, two were avid bicyclists. Both — Robin May and Michael Martinez of Angel Fire — acknowledged the highway is need of improvement for safety’s sake, but both also expressed concerned the project would irrevocably alter the character of the scenic stretch of road between Angel Fire and Mora — specifically the section from milepost (MP) 19.66 at Big Blue Creek to MP 25.8 at the NM 120 junction.

Martinez, co-owner of the Rough Riders 200, a two day event that includes back-to-back bicycle century (100-mile) rides, said participants have commented on the European character of NM 434 and how much fun it is to ride.

Presenter Carlos Padilla of Radian Engineering said his firm respects that “this is a mountain road” but added, “Our objective is to make it safer.”

Padilla — along with co-presenters Carman Silva, Project Manager from Radian Engineering, and New Mexico Department of Transportation staff Heather Sandoval, Assistant District Engineer, Chris Urioste, Technical Support Engineer, and James Hirsch, environmental scientist with the DOT Environmental Bureau — outlined plans for the highway.

A Radian Engineering flyer, which was also handed out during the meeting, calls the stretch of highway an  “important transportation link within the north-central portion of the state providing a primary connection between Mora and Angel Fire as well as access to a number of smaller communities within the region.” 

The flyer notes the road features “a number of significant physical deficiencies” including “narrow travel lanes and lack of shoulders…, limited horizontal and vertical roadway geometry; two existing timber bridges built in 1963 that have sub-standard load carrying capacity and narrow deck width; and inadequate drainage infrastructure.”

Additionally, Padilla said, “Current conditions prohibit normal maintenance activities like snow removal.”

Both May and Martinez said they knew people who had crashed while bicycling between Angel Fire and Mora. They are not alone in their experiences: “Killer curve takes its toll on N.M. 434” by Albuquerque Journal Investigative Reporter Colleen Heild tells the story of several fatalities as well as the efforts by frustrated locals to mitigate the danger.

The website www.motorcycleroads.us, which offers rider comments and reviews, features both praise “beautiful road” and warnings: “it is narrow and you have to be on the lookout for vehicles coming the other way.” 

In 2012 Brenda Miller, who was also quoted in the Journal article, wrote, “It is a beautiful ride but riders need to be very aware of Mile Marker 18. There is a dip before a 90 degree turn that gives the motorcycle a lift coming out of the turn. This has helped in causing four motorcycle fatalities in 2012 in seven months. The highway patrol are so aware of this spot that they told the other riders that were with my husband (who died at this spot) that the Flight for Life Helicopter does not need directions!”

Padilla said the area known as “The Big Dip” may require moving the road over a few feet. “That has not been decided.”

Other work may require securing private land through eminent domain — though in some cases prescriptive easements may apply. 

The project also involves work by archaeologists, geologists, biologists and environmental scientists — all to protect features along the roadway including wetlands.

“This is a sensitive environment, Eric Johnson, Senior Environmental Project Manager at Marron and Associates, said, “so it is getting a lot of attention, more so than other areas. Our goal is to help create a higher quality wetlands that is still accessible on foot. We plan to build an eight-foot fence.”

“That’s going to be hard to clear with a beer bottle,” Robin May quipped to laughter from the group.

Johnson said two archaeological sites were found along the highway but “they’ve been cleared.”

The location of any such sites will be kept confidential to help maintain their historic significance.

Local business owner George Torres asked about a cliff along the road. “There’s a lot of fractures up there.”

Padilla said in addition to widening the road, the department will be “bringing rock down.”

Mora meeting rescheduled

 

 

 

The group originally planned to meet in Mora on Jan. 10, however, that meeting had to be canceled. A second meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 2) at the Mora Independent School District Administration Building, Board Room #10 on Ranger Road in Mora. Written comments will be accepted at the meeting, or they may be sent by Feb. 16, 2017 to: Eric Johnson Marron and Associates 7511 Fourth Street NW Albuquerque, NM 87107 or by email to eric@marroninc.com.

Carlos Padilla presents in front of a project map.