Then: Crews work on the NM 528 widening project at Quantum Road in January 2022. (Gary Herron photo.)

Now: The NM 528 widening project, seen here at the Quantum Road intersection, is substantially done. (Gary Herron photo)

The orange barrels were still there, as well as a few orange signs, on Christmas Day.

But all of the lanes on NM 528 from just north of Ridgecrest Road to Northern Boulevard were open and the cautionary signs were down. The speed limit was back to its usual 45 mph, from its reduced limit of 35 and sometimes lower during the work.

The $26.8 million New Mexico Department of Transportation widening project, which began in the spring of 2021, included extensive drainage improvements, plus landscaping and an asphalt walkway on the west side of the highway, which had been lacking.

“It is always great when a project like this comes to fruition,” said Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull. “After months of sacrifice, we now get to enjoy the benefits of a vastly improved roadway.

“I would like to thank NMDOT and all the workers who did such an amazing job on this project. The new 528 roadway and the frontage road are beautiful.”

On Dec. 28, Kimberly Gallegos, District 3 public information officer for the state Department of Transportation, said, “Crews are waiting on power from PNM to fully open the roadway. The project has reached substantial completion. There are two left-turn lanes that will remain (one will not be used as a U-turn, as some have suggested, as the radius is not wide enough).”

Sundt Road and Rockaway Boulevard each have two lanes off northbound NM 528, with the right-hand lane disappearing quickly once drivers head west on those streets.

“The $28.6 million project was on time and budget,” Gallegos added. “Once PNM hooks up the power to the turn lanes, all lanes will be open, and signals will be fully functional.

“Our crews and contractors were out there 40-plus hours a week and when permitted on weekends.”

It’s been a long time coming

Rio Ranchoans first learned about the project more than seven years ago – at a public meeting held at Meadowlark Senior Center, updating the public on the status of the preliminary roadway design and construction schedule for what was formally known as the “NM 528/Pat D’Arco Highway Improvements Project.”

The project was initially funded at $14.5 million.

“We will maintain the current traffic signal at this intersection (Sundt and NM 528), though we will be adjusting the grade and alignment for access to the Frontage Road on the east side of NM 528 to better accommodate the type of vehicular traffic that utilizes the Industrial Park,” NMDOT District 3 engineer Kenneth Murphy told the Observer. “We will also be extending the Frontage Rd. at the north end to connect to Don Julio Road/Northern Blvd.”

This project included the NM 528 three-lane expansion from Ridgecrest Dr. to just north of Northern Blvd.

At the highway’s intersection at Quantum Road, eastbound drivers on Quantum may no longer turn left and head north on NM 528; right-hand turns onto southbound 528 are permitted.

In 2015, NMDOT completed a widening project on NM 528 between Southern Boulevard and Ridgecrest Drive, adding a lane in each direction, turn lanes, trails and landscaping to the busy stretch of highway.