Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Locals react to widening Fourth Street

Even with Fourth Street construction hurting Roger Erker’s Los Ranchos de Albuquerque business, the JB’s Restaurant owner sees the necessity of the sandbags, the traffic barriers, the torn-up asphalt and the lines of cars jammed into a milelong stretch of half a road.

“Something needed to get done,” he says. “It’s like a grape on the vine. You kind of need to grow, or eventually die.”

But with construction’s customer-scaring inconvenience threatening to stretch into November and maybe December, Erker and other Fourth Street business owners are eagerly awaiting the end of the project – meant to modernize the main strip through Los Ranchos de Albuquerque – and the normalization of their business levels.

“As a small businessman, you end up eating the losses,” Erker says. “You can only do that for so long. We need to get this thing open and going. The sooner, the better.”

Dick Rowles, project manager with Star Paving Company, says the construction – roughly from Solar Road Northwest to Tyler Road Northwest – will wrap up no later than Dec. 12, though he expects Star Paving to finish major work by mid-November.

The project began in late March and was originally expected to be done by the middle of this month. Heavy rains, material shortages and expansion in the project’s scope pushed it back, Rowles says.

He said it’s almost impossible to finish most of the work in time for the start of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta this week.

That doesn’t worry Balloon Fiesta officials, says Kathie Leyendecker, media relations director with the fiesta.

“We don’t think it’s a major concern at all, because most of our traffic comes on Second,” she says. “If people are aware of that (construction), they can also seek an alternate route.”

Rowles says he’ll do everything he can to smooth traffic around the busy time, but it’s most likely cars will be squeezed, as they are now, into a two-lane road, one lane for each direction.

“In the long run, it’s going to be very nice,” Rowles says. “Right now, we try to make it as painless as we can, but painless isn’t the best word to use in the situation.”

Los Ranchos Mayor Larry Abraham acknowledges the construction’s inconveniences but points to its benefits.

“It is pretty well modernizing what I consider to be the center of our town,” he says. “For the little we have inconvenienced them, it’s going to be a night-and-day difference.”

One difference he hopes to see is Los Ranchos getting closer to creating a 20-acre town center at Fourth Street Northwest and Osuna Road Northwest.

It could include condos, shops and a grocery store, and would give Los Ranchos a highly visible location to attract locals and those outside the village’s borders, Abraham says.

By upgrading Fourth Street, access to such a town center would be easier, Abraham says.

“What we’re trying to do is create a destination,” he says, “and create the awareness of the village of Los Ranchos.”

The $9 million Fourth Street project includes:

  • The addition of storm sewers.
  • More traffic signals to improve the flow of cars.
  • A turning lane.
  • Landscaping in the medians.
  • Adding sidewalks.
  • A new public park – with a multiuse field and running track – that will be shared with nearby Taft Middle School and will house a mostly underground storage area for water runoff.

Darlene Yachik, owner of Indulgence Cafe & Catering at 6713 Fourth St. N.W., says the parks sounds great. Still, she’s seen her cafe business – but not her catering – drop 40 percent and is ready for the construction to end.

She has had her business’ parking lot blocked, water cut off and the telephone lined damaged, causing calls to ring at a residential neighbor’s home.

“It’s terrible,” she says. “If our livelihood depended on the cafe, we’d already be closed.”

Erker with JB’s, 6621 Fourth St. N.W., remembers construction once causing water and utility problems, but he credits Rowles with getting the problem fixed in minutes.

The problems, he says, are worth it after more than 20 years without any upgrades to the street.

“The whole area is just going to look better, which is all positive for a business owner and landowner like myself,” he says.

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