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I-25, University Avenue construction nears completion

The two roundabouts on both sides of University Avenue have been completed. The rest of the construction is expected to be completed by summer 2021. (Illustration courtesy of the I-25 University Avenue Project.)

Construction continues as two new roundabouts take shape on the east side of New Mexico State University’s Las Cruces campus, along Interstate 25 and University Avenue.

The project was born as a collaboration between the New Mexico Department of Transportation, the City of Las Cruces and NMSU. Construction began in January 2020 and is projected to be completed by summer 2021.

Project design lead Wyatt Kartchner mentioned during a public meeting on Feb. 4 that this ongoing project is supposed to improve both safety and traffic flow in and out of the NMSU campus. The new design also aims to improve transportation for bicyclists and pedestrians, while promoting sustainability.

“We feel it is important to be environmentally conscious and sustainable [by] building projects that will last 20 to 30 years, or even longer …” Kartchner said.

Kartchner explained that sustainability is of great importance to his team since they are looking to get a good “Envision” rating. The Envision rating system is designed to measure how well sustainability is implemented into infrastructure projects. The I-25/University Avenue project is the first highway expansion in the state to seek this rating.

Gateway to NMSU is a $1.1 million project that consists of a beautification of the roundabout that leads into the NMSU campus. (Illustration courtesy of NMSU Facilities and Services)

Some of the things being done to improve sustainability include recycling demolished materials, installing high-efficiency LED traffic lights, building 6-foot sidewalks along University Avenue and adding dedicated bike lanes to encourage other ways of transportation, according to Kartchner.

Project manager Ryan Tafoya explained that two new bridges, the southbound I-25 on-and-off ramps and two roundabouts on both sides of University Avenue, have been completed in the last couple of months.

“It truly will create a wonderful gateway into our community and into the New Mexico State University main campus,” Tafoya said.

Digital filmmaking student Brianna Ponce thinks that a roundabout is a good idea because it can potentially help traffic flow. Ponce lives in El Paso and frequently travels on I-25. She mentioned that returning home has been a lot more difficult since construction began.

“Arriving at school is the easy part, but heading home takes about ten more minutes because I have to take other exits,” Ponce said.

Once this project is completed, construction will begin on “Gateway to NMSU,” a $1.1 million project that consists of a beautification of the south roundabout that leads into the NMSU campus. A survey conducted in September 2020 asked students, faculty and staff what design they wanted for the center of the roundabout. The survey included three options: “Aggie Gates,” which takes inspiration from the original NMSU entrance gates near Skeen Hall; “NMSU Bold,” a stone-based structure that goes hand-in-hand with the university slogan; and a third option that combines both of these designs. Results showed that the majority of people voted for the third option.

Heather Watenpaugh, university architect and campus planning officer, said the project is set to begin as soon as the I-25/University Avenue project is completed in August 2021. “Gateway to NMSU” is expected to be completed by January 2022.

“A welcoming branded entrance to campus is an important part to the campus environment that does not currently exist,” Watenpaugh said. “The gateway will provide a sense of arrival and establish a destination at the east end of the International Mall, with a physical location for memorable and effective photographs.”

Aggie Uptown will feature a walkable, mixed-use commercial center, public spaces, and a mix of academic, professional and residential uses. (Illustration courtesy of NMSU.)

This project coincides with the construction of “Aggie Uptown,” a major-scale commercial project on the east side of I-25, adjacent to the NMSU golf course. Work on the project began in late 2019 and is tentatively scheduled to continue until 2027. With Phase One of Aggie Uptown complete, the next step, according to Watenpaugh, is to define the total area for streets, building types, landscaping and public greens.

“NMSU’s Aggie Development Inc. real estate group is actively working with outside developers on planning construction projects on various parcels throughout Aggie Uptown consistent with NMSU’s brand and image,” Watenpaugh said.

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