New barriers installed near Gorge Bridge under cover of darkness


This story was updated Sept. 15 at 4:45 p.m. to include information from the New Mexico Dept. of Transporation.

Río Grande Gorge Bridge vendors were shocked at the start of their day Thursday (Sept. 14) to find concrete barricades had been installed along the highway shoulder where they normally sell their jewelry and goods.

In the evening hours of Wednesday (Sept. 13), over 100 concrete barriers were placed on the north and south side of U.S. Highway 64 on the west end of the gorge bridge.

Several vendors were angered at the new addition and decided to haul their tables over the barricades and sell their goods, despite the waist-high walls of concrete in their way.

"I put in a public challenge to whosever decision this was to fess up," said vendor Mathew Roger Menich.

The transportation department, did install the barriers, according to the department's spokesperson Emilee Cantrell. The deptartment secretary, Tom Church, ordered the barriers "last week," she said.

"There was no walkway," said vendor Freddie Johnson about the new barricades. "We're not destructive. We want money, that's our major objective and to live our lives."

Johnson, along with a small crew of other vendors, decided to muscle up and move one of the over 3,000 pound blocks of concrete to create a walkway for tourists to come off the sidewalk into their vending area. Barricades completely blocked off the side of the road where the sidewalk ends in the area and did not allow for anyone to pass to get to the vendors.

"I got to witness how the transition from them kicking us further an further out until we're almost gone," said Johnson. "This is the final straw, they want us out."

Within fifteen minutes of the crew moving the barrier to create a path, more than 20 people from the sidewalk migrated into the vendor's area to look at what they had to offer. Many of the vendors say they just want a place to sell their goods and to be left alone by the DOT.

Menich, along with many of the vendors, say they have a right to sell their goods on the north side of the highway as long as they are far enough from the road and traffic. The south side of the highway, known by some as the "Cul-de-sac," is a large - albeit uneven, unimproved and unofficial - parking area.

According to Menich, vending at the bridge is how many of the merchants make their livings. Authorities, he said, have been slowly pushing them off of their spot on the side of the highway near the gorge.

Vending is not allowed in the highway right-of-way and vendors were asked by the department to vacate their positions in August. In defiance of the act, several longtime vendors decided to set up their tents, trucks and tables and continue to sell their good to the tourists who regularly flock to the tables full of minerals, jewelry and other goods.

The barricades are the latest and most substantial in a string of attempts to move the vendors to a different, safer area - which have included installing new "no vending" and "no parking" signs on the north side of the highway.