Taos County was awarded grant funding for construction on the Aguas Caliente bridge (also known as Bridge number 8656), located in Pilar, New Mexico at the junction of NM570 and Aguas Caliente Road.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) funding for the bridge will be $470,250, and Taos County is providing an additional $24,750.
“This is a pretty dire situation right now. I don't think they can have a full propane truck that goes across it,” said Jason Silva, the director of Taos County Public Works.
Silva said that septic services, delivery services and first responders have not used the bridge for some time.
“This is only going to be a short-term fix for about four years, because the plan is to build a completely new bridge adjacent to this – we haven't defined the location but it's going to be in the same area,” said Silva.
The timber bridge has received minor repairs over the years, but no major work. Silva said they will replace some of the support beams, guard rails and drill into the water to provide additional support.
However, drilling into the water creates an obstacle. The endangered southwestern willow flycatcher makes its habitat near the body of water by the bridge. The Army Corps of Engineers identified the bird’s habitat near the bridge while the Corps conducted the bridge’s environmental studies. According to Silva, the presence of the endangered species may create time restraints in order to work around its habitat.
Other factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have affected this project. Due to supply shortages and other costs spurred by the pandemic, Silva said the project’s original probable estimate inflated in one year’s time from $385,000 to now $495,000.
“This is mainly due to the fact that the price of lumber has gone up – and construction costs ... there's not enough workforce so there's a contributing factor,” said Silva.
The next major step will be selecting an outside contractor to handle the project. No date has been selected yet for when this step will take place.
A Taos County press release said in addition to the need for large trucks to get through, the bridge “will be restored [for] local and tourist destinations to explore outdoor recreational activities and scenic areas.”
“So it's going to be safe for everybody, once they fix it, so that school buses, the fire trucks, everything can get over without worrying,” said Anissa Arrambide, the Public Information Officer for Taos County.