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Contractor Works Under Balloon Fiesta Countdown

Sat May 06, 2000 - West Edition
Emilie Haulenbeek

As Interstate 25 heads north from Albuquerque, NM, it currently narrows to only four lanes. This portion of I-25 leads to the Alameda exit, which is a major thoroughfare just once a year. During the first two weeks of October, this area carries hundreds of thousands of cars every morning, as millions of visitors travel to sunrise launchings at the Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This crucial intersection is where A.S. Horner Inc., an Albuquerque general contractor, is adding two new lanes. And crews are running against the clock to beat the Balloon Fiesta rush.

The company broke ground on March 13, knowing that it had exactly 195 days to complete their project. The $7.24-million project, sponsored by the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department, was designed by Bohannan-Huston Inc. The improvements involve adding one lane in each direction of the highway, creating wide shoulders, constructing auxiliary lanes between the I-25/Alameda interchange, and erecting a concrete barrier median. To complete the project in time, A.S. Horner plans to work seven days a week.

Matt Buckland, the A.S. Horner project superintendent, said that his crew will work around the clock if needed to meet the deadline. So far, most of the work has been done during daylight hours.

But while the clock is ticking, Buckland’s crew has had to fight another battle — against nature. The biggest challenge the crew faces?

“Weather. It’s slowed us down a little,” said Buckland, noting that it’s been the most critical factor influencing the project’s progress. Spring weather in New Mexico is notoriously unpredictable, and this season hasn’t proved any different. With extremely high winds and blowing sand during the second week of March and snow and rain showers during the third week, it has been difficult for the team to work consistently. The current unpaved median has often been underwater, with large, muddy ponds stretching for yards. The ponding has restricted concrete pouring.

In addition to the race against time, Buckland’s crew also has to work against lane drop restrictions. His crew is only allowed to close one lane during prime traffic hours, so the majority of the heavy work is done between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The team was allowed one period of complete road closure, during the weekend from March 18 to March 20. Buckland’s crew jacked up the metal girders on the I-25/Alameda bridge and replaced them with new bearing pads.

To complete the project on time, it has been divided into two primary phases. The first involves the “inside” portion of the job. The team will create new dividing lines on the shoulder and establish a median by erecting colored concrete barriers. The concrete, designed with aesthetics in mind, will be a plum color, said Buckland. The first phase also included replacing the bearing pads on the bridge that crosses over I-25.

The second phase is much larger. The contractor will construct a new inside lane on both sides of the highway, add a new top surface to the existing lanes, and erect new signage.

During construction, one of A.S. Horner’s subcontractors, Salls Brothers Construction, moved about 9,120 cubic meters (12,000 cu.yds.) of earth away from the site. The contractor used belly dumps and blades to remove the dirt and haul it away. There is a lot of other heavy machinery on the site, including a Bidwell made by CMI, a four-track slit form made by Gomaco, and several Cat and Volvo loaders, backhoes and cranes. A.S. Horner owns all of its own equipment, and usually purchases from the local Rust Tractor and Golden States Transportation.

A.S. Horner also has several other subcontractors on site. MCC Inc. will drain the site, APP has been contracted for the cold milling, and Baca’s Trees is doing the electrical work. With all the contractors, Buckland estimates that there usually about 30 workers on site, but as the deadline nears, there may be as many as 50.

Buckland is confident that his crew will complete the work by mid-September, as originally contracted. The newly reconstructed Interstate section will make travel easier to and from the Balloon Fiesta, making a smoother event for all.

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