After numerous complaints and requests from public and private entities in Socorro County over the past few years, the New Mexico Department of Transportation is undertaking a plan to completely reconfigure the I-25 interchange at Escondida.
Local stakeholders have long-championed the project, including area farmers, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and Socorro Electric Cooperative, among others.
The project would also involve both Frontage Roads spanning Nogal Arroyo.
In September 2021, DOT engaged the infrastructure consulting firm AECOM to develop six alternatives for redesigning the interchange and frontage roads.
The study corridor for the I-25 Escondida Interchange begins at milepost 151, just north of Socorro, and extends north to milepost 153. It also includes portions of County Road 91, NM 408, and Escondida Lane.
The objective of the study is to evaluate the I-25 Escondida Interchange to improve safety, accessibility, and circulation. Additionally, this study will analyze the possible extension of both west and east frontage roads to the Escondida interchange.
Some of the elements evaluated include interchange geometry and condition of the roadway, bridges, and drainage structures, multi-modal accessibility, and the need for frontage road extension over the Nogal Arroyo along Interstate 25 or Escondida Lane.
Arguments from stakeholders in October in favor of the redesign include:
- Some farm equipment is 18 feet wide and can only travel 25 mph.
- Farmers can’t fit their heavy equipment through the underpasses, and driving on I-25 is dangerous.
- Trucks with larger loads can’t fit through the underpasses
- The bridge on East Road is not rated for heavy trucks, which must use I-25
- There is no way to safely get across the Nogal Arroyo other than using I-25
- Nogal Arroyo flooded several years ago with water hitting the bridges and spraying onto I-25
- Several people have drowned trying to cross the canal
- The surrounding communities’ aging population needs a safer, slower route into town other than I-25
- A growing number of cyclists, off-road vehicles and other recreationists utilizing the corridor
- The County is looking to improve Escondida Lake to increase visitation
- Emergency access need to be considered during construction.
Last week was the first of two online public meetings.
Ernesto Santillano, Project Development Engineer for DOT’s South Regional Division, said the consultant, AECOM, is looking to finalize the report recommending the alternative by November.
The six different alternatives are below.
“When an alternative is chosen, that will leave a footprint for design, and further environmental investigations and clearances would have to be performed,” Santillano said. “Once an alternative gets chosen, they’ll do a conceptual cost estimate, and then when the design is finalized, we will have a better idea of its cost.”
He said the work could be divided into smaller parts “because it’s such a huge project. For example, start on the Frontage Roads first.”
Escondida resident Gina Dello Russo said at the meeting she was in favor of reconfiguring the interchange.
“I understand the reason to improve the interchange there because it is a very short on-ramp and very short off-ramp,” she said. “It is kind of tricky to get up to speed before the bridge there where you don’t have a shoulder.”
She is concerned that some homeowners would be dislocated by extending the east Frontage Road across Nogal Arroyo, meeting with Escondida Lane.
“I live on Escondida Lane, which is in two of the alternatives they presented for the frontage road,” Dello Russo said. “As you can imagine, I’m not thrilled about increasing traffic on my little dead-end road. I don’t think the road is wide enough. It’s a residential area. I suggested using a plan to keep the frontage road next to the interstate. Where you have the least impact on the small community.”
An additional stakeholder meeting is scheduled for June, and the final public meeting will be held in October.
Comments may be submitted by May 4 at [email protected] or by mail to SWCA Environmental Consultants, Attn. Escondida Study 7770 Jefferson St NE, Suite 410 Albuquerque, NM 87109.