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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Spring 2002 arrow New Mexico: Widening of US 70 Highway, Lincoln County
New Mexico: Widening of US 70 Highway, Lincoln County

Agency: Federal Highway Administration
Based on a high rate of accidents on a stretch of US 70 between Riverside and Ruidoso Downs in Lincoln County, New Mexico, the Federal Highway Administration proposes to fund a State project to widen the highway from two lanes to four. This portion of the highway, however, passes through a rural ranching community in Hondo Valley, which features archeological sites, historic ranches and their associated landscapes, historic districts, and the historic Rio Hondo Acequia System. Many local groups disagree with the State’s finding that the project would not adversely affect the historic properties.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is proposing to provide financial assistance to the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department (NMSHTD) to widen US 70 from two to four lanes between Riverside and Ruidoso Downs in Lincoln County, New Mexico. The rate of accidents and fatalities for this segment of the highway is about twice that of other rural undivided highways in New Mexico, due to sideswipe, head-on, and rear-end collisions from turning vehicles, failed passing maneuvers, and the inability to see deer crossing the narrow road.

This segment passes through a rural ranching community in Hondo Valley, which features archeological sites, historic ranches and their associated landscapes, historic districts, and the historic Rio Hondo Acequia System, a communal water management system that formed the basis for settlement of New Mexico’s Indo-Hispano communities. All of these properties, which are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, extend into the area of potential effect for the project.

The New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) agreed with FHWA’s determination of No Adverse Effect for the project. But many local groups, such as New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance, Valley Community Preservation Commission, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation disagree with this finding.

They also disagree with FHWA’s efforts to identify historic properties in Hondo Valley, particularly the lack of identifying an overarching cultural landscape for the valley. Because the undertaking will employ a “design/build” technique of implementation, these groups fear that all potential effects have not been adequately evaluated before construction begins.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation contends that the process for reviewing the undertaking was flawed. Section 106 review of the project was carried out by FHWA and the SHPO under the terms of a Statewide Substitution Agreement between ACHP and the SHPO in accordance with previous Section 106 regulations.

The agreement is inconsistent with ACHP’s current regulations, and ACHP contends the agreement expired in April 1999. To comply with the current Section 106 regulations, ACHP and other consulting parties to the agreement have requested FHWA to prepare a Programmatic Agreement for further consultation about all previous findings and determination of the project.

Although FHWA has agreed to prepare a Programmatic Agreement, it does not wish to revisit previous determinations made regarding the project. Instead, the agency only wants to address future discoveries and unanticipated effects in the agreement based on uncertainties resulting from the “design/build” method of construction.

The consulting parties to the agreement, which include ACHP, FHWA, NMSHTD, the SHPO, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a local property owner, and local historic preservation groups, will meet in May or June 2002 to discuss the first draft of a Programmatic Agreement, including its appropriate scope.

Staff contact: Jane Crisler


Posted June 4, 2002

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