For decades, trains stopped at the Jarales crossing, blocking north-south traffic, which has been a safety concern.
News-Bulletin file photo

Plans for a bridge over the triple railroad tracks that cross Jarales Road, aka N.M. 109, south of Belen are moving forward.

The at-grade crossing has long been a bottle neck for traffic on the road, causing delays and detours for drivers when BNSF freight trains are stopped, blocking the intersection.

During an virtual meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18, officials from the New Mexico Department of Transportation announced after the analysis of six possible alignments for the bridge and accompanying new roadway, Alternative C emerged as the preferred alignment.

That option has a 330-foot bridge crossing the tracks 38-feet above the rails at its highest point, about 70-feet east of the existing at-grade rail crossing.

The road and bridge would have two, 12-foot lanes, and 5-foot shoulders on each side.

There would be embankments on the east side and a retaining wall on the west. The changes to the road would likely require an extension to the culvert for the Belen Waste Ditch, and possible replacement of the Arroyos Ditch and Sanchez Drain crossings.

The existing part of Jarales Road would reconnect to Audra Court and Gallegos Road, and Duke Road would reconnect to the new alignment at a relocated intersection.

This plan would require 13 residential relocations and 13 acres would be bought for right of way.

The estimated cost of this option is $27 million. The cost of the project will be split between BNSF and NMDOT, but the exact portions are still unclear. Jill Mosher, NMDOT assistant district engineer, said the cost could be split 50/50 between the state and the railroad, or 60/40, with BNSF carrying the larger portion.

Priscilla Benavides, general manager for the NMDOT central region design, said residents in the vicinity of the crossing could expect to see survey crews soon, potentially as early as next week, who would be mapping and surveying the right of way for the new roadway and bridge.

“It is going to take a few months to do the field survey and put into a map. We will be making a parallel efforts to do the title research that’s needed,” Benavides said. “The property owners who are affected will get personal visits; I’m not sure how we’ll do that exactly, but they will be contacted by October or November so we can start the discussion and accelerate the right of way process.”

Benavides said the state had established a very aggressive schedule for the project, and anticipated the design work will be completed by December 2021.

If all goes according to plan, construction will most likely begin in the spring of 2022 with an estimated nine months to build.

Residents have until 5 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 1, to submit comments and feedback on the project before the final report is prepared and the environmental study begins.

Comments and feedback can be sent by email to Jarales@parametrix.com, or by mail to Jeff Fredine, c/o Parametrix, 9600 San Mateo Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87113.

Jarales Road currently has a daily average of 1,759 vehicles with 6 percent being heavy trucks. An average of 90 trains a day, some nearly two miles long, come through the crossing.

NMDOT is anticipating by 2040, the road will carry an average of 2,184 vehicles a day.

Right now, BNSF freight trains are about 10,000 feet long — two miles — and plans to increase that to three miles, or 16,000 feet.

The railroad also plans to add up to eight additional lines at that crossing, depending on demand from its customers.

To see the completed Phase AB report and appendix, visit dot.state.nm.us/nmdotprojects. The Power Point presentation with narration and presentation slides from Tuesday evenings meeting will be uploaded soon DOT representatives said.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.