Daily Times file photo  A vehicle drives by the site where the planned East Aztec Arterial Route will begin on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, located east of
Daily Times file photo A vehicle drives by the site where the planned East Aztec Arterial Route will begin on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, located east of the intersection of U.S. Hwy 550 and Pepsi Way.

AZTEC — Racing to keep ahead of a Aug. 31 deadline, city officials held a special meeting on Monday and unanimously approved a new cooperative agreement with the New Mexico Department of Transportation to secure $3.5 million to construct less than a mile of the East Aztec Arterial Route.

When a new cooperative agreement is in place, the city will be able to fund construction of the southernmost portion of the road — from U.S. Highway 550 on the south end of the city limits approximately three quarters of a mile east across Williams Arroyo.

The funding for Phase 1B of the 5-mile-long eastern bypass road, which is funded through a combination of state and federal dollars, will require the city to pay for the construction costs as they occur, submit monthly progress reports to the transportation department and apply for reimbursement when the stretch of road has been built.

"If bids go over the $3.5 (million) mark, the city will be required to come up with the difference," said Aztec finance director Kathy Lamb. "We have the reserves for it. Hopefully, the project will go out for the bidding process in September or, at the latest, October. A notice to proceed with a contractor will go ahead this fall, but they won't get to pave this year. That will likely have to wait until the end of winter next year."

More than 10 years in the making, the eastern loop road would divert traffic from the city's historic downtown area to mostly undeveloped open land to the east, starting on U.S. Highway 550 near the Aztec Speedway south of downtown and rejoining the highway at Navajo Dam Road to the northeast.

With the price tag exceeding $11 million, the road project has been broken up into phased portions while officials have worked to secure funding to complete the project. Heavy commercial truck traffic on Main Avenue in downtown Aztec shakes the foundations of century-old buildings and leads to recurring road repairs along Main Avenue, which is also U.S. Highway 550.

With $3.8 million in capital outlay dollars secured from legislation earlier this spring, which was sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, and other San Juan County delegates, the city has money toward completing the majority of the arterial road, a stretch from Tiger Park to the northernmost reach of Phase 1B.

Lamb said that the outlay money was key to obtaining the $3.5 million for Phase 1B and a commitment from the Department of Transportation to see the entire road project through.

"I anticipate the remaining phases will be close together," Lamb said. "A bid package will be prepared (for the remaining middle stretch, called phase 2) while 1B is being finished. This project really is going to get done now — that's where we're at — with the (New Mexico) DOT commitment. We're probably looking at winter of 2018 for the road's completion."

Completion of the route will come sooner, Lamb said, if the city is awarded federal funding through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program, which funds projects "that have a significant impact on the Nation, a region or a metropolitan area," according to the Transportation Department's website. Award letters are expected some time this fall.

Edward Kotyk, City of Aztec projects manager, said the road could be finished by 2018.

"Potentially, we can have the arterial done by calendar 2018, if all goes well. It's been a bumpy road."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.