New Mexico Road Network

By | October 13, 2022

New Mexico’s road network is thin, except for major highways, most rural roads are unpaved, and major roads are often spaced further apart. In addition to the Interstate Highways, important corridors are often designed as 2×2 divided highway, which actually function as at-grade freeways.

Road management

The state highway authority is the New Mexico Department of Transportation, abbreviated NMDOT. The state operates 11,918 kilometers of state roads, plus the US Highways and Interstate Highways. The state operates 3,932 bridges, relatively few given the size of the state, but explained by the lack of rivers and the low density of the road network.

  • Bittranslators: State overview of New Mexico, including geography, economy, population and history as well as introduction to major cities of New Mexico.

Interstate Highways

New Mexico’s Interstate Highway Network.

New Mexico has only three Interstate Highways, Interstate 10 as an east-west route in the south, Interstate 25 as a north-south route in the center and north, and Interstate 40 as an east-west route in the center of the state. I-25 and I-40 converge at downtown Albuquerque , with the state’s largest interchange called the “Big I.” The freeways have 2×2 lanes almost everywhere except in Albuquerque where the freeways have 2×3 to 2×4 lanes. Special is the route of I-25 in the north of the state, which from Albuquerque first bends northeast to Santa Fe and then even to the southeast before turning north again from Las Vegas.

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US Highways

The secondary road network for through traffic consists of various US Highways, which in many cases have been expanded with 2×2 lanes, and are more or less in use as a highway due to the low number of intersections. A number of US Highways are longer-distance 2×2 lanes:

  • US 54 El Paso – Alamogordo 106 km
  • US 62 Carlsbad – Hobbs 121 km
  • US 70 Las Cruces – Clovis 491 km
  • US 285 Carlsbad – Clines Corners (I-40) 365 km
  • US 550 Albuquerque – Cedar Hill 280 km

However, due to the large area of the state, the road network is thin. Due to the enormous distances and low population density, the roads are all very quiet, except in Albuquerque. Dangerous driving conditions can arise during sand and dust storms.

State Roads

A numbered frontage road in New Mexico.

In New Mexico one speaks of a state road, it is one of the few states where this name is used. There are 412 state roads with a combined length of 11,918 kilometers. State Road 120 is the longest route at 192 kilometers while State Road 446 is the shortest at only 0.4 kilometers. State Roads are numbered with one, two or three digits, and three routes are numbered with four digits.

Route 1 was introduced way back in 1909, even before New Mexico became a state, and followed the historic El Camino Real from the border with Mexico to Santa Fe. Shortly after New Mexico became a state, route numbering was introduced, as one of the first states, but it is unclear whether these road numbers were actually signposted, or only had an administrative function. In 1926 there was no official road number plate, but it was introduced at the same time as the US Highways in 1927. Because the US Highways were introduced at the same time as the State Roads, there has been no significant duplication of both route numbers. In the late 1920s and 1930s, various renumberings were already implemented, partly because new US Highways were introduced in the state. In the years ‘ 50, the state took over the road management of more secondary roads, and the number of state roads grew from 121 to more than 400 in the 1950s. The road numbers ran over 500, although there have never been so many state roads in use at the same time. In 1988 the state roads were significantly renumbered.

The quality of state roads varies significantly. Some routes are well developed, but many state roads are narrower and winding. New Mexico also has relatively many unpaved state roads, some of these routes are in poor condition and difficult to drive during precipitation.

Toll roads

There are no toll roads in New Mexico, and there never have been. The New Mexico statutes do allow toll roads, but this is mainly historical in nature, they are described as toll roads such as “wagon trails” and bridges. There are no concrete plans for toll roads in New Mexico.

History

I-40 in Albuquerque.

I-25 in Albuquerque.

When New Mexico became a state in 1912, there were no paved roads. After the introduction of US Highways, work started on asphalting these routes, but the pace was quite slow. In 1931 only a few sections were asphalted. The main tarmac road at the time ran in the far south of the state, US 80 from the Arizona border through Lordsburg, Deming and Las Cruces to the Texas border near El Paso. This was an important transcontinental route at the time. Elsewhere in New Mexico, only short stretches were paved, even between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, a third of the road was still a gravel road. North of Socorro, some parts of US 85. were fragmented asphalted. In southeastern New Mexico, the road between Carlsbad and Roswell was paved.

During the 1930s, the asphalt network was expanded considerably. In 1938 the main corridors were completely or almost completely asphalted. In that year, US 85 still had a stretch of gravel between Hot Springs (now Truth or Consequences) and Socorro. The US 70 also had some gravel parts between Las Cruces and Alamogordo and between Roswell and Clovis. US 66 was then already completely paved as an east-west route through the middle of the state. The road network was the least developed in the northwest of the state, in 1938 what would later become US 550 between Bernalillo and Farmington was still largely a dirt road, in part not even a gravel road.

The road network was further paved in the 1950s, and already in the early 1950s the first stretches were widened to a 2×2 divided highway. In 1951, US 80/85 between the Texas and Las Cruces border was already provided with 2×2 lanes, as well as part of US 85 between Albuquerque and Bernalillo. In that year the US was 64 the worst developed road, east of Taos was a long stretch of gravel road, and in northwestern New Mexico the tarmac road was completely missing. The predecessor of US 64 between Chama and Farmington is State Road 17, which in 1951 was still largely a dirt road. Aside from the US Highways and a limited number of state roads, a significant portion of the minor roads was still unpaved. By 1956 almost all through roads were paved, and especially around Santa Fe and in eastern New Mexico there was already a larger network of paved roads. In eastern New Mexico, this was important to the state’s little agriculture and the growing oil industry. However, the road network in the border region with Mexico was poorly developed, south of US 70/80 there were almost no paved roads.

The construction of the highway network started from the creation of the Interstate Highway system in 1956. It is unclear what New Mexico’s first Interstate Highway was, as the 1958 state highway map did not show any completed or under construction Interstate Highways. By 1960, the first sections of I-40 were opened, but it is uncertain which section opened first. By 1967, a reasonable number of miles of Interstate Highways had been opened, especially I-10 in the south of the state was almost completely opened, as well as several parts of I-25 and I-40. In 1967, the biggest missing sections were on I-25, between Truth or Consequences and Socorro, and between Las Vegas and Raton. New Mexico followed the common pattern of the western desert states, with inter-city stretches being built during the 1960s, and the bypasses around regional cores only in the 1970s to early 1980s. especially because those places depended on passers-by for their existence. The opening of I-40 at the border with Texas in 1981 was probably the last opening of the Interstate Highway system in New Mexico.

Governor Richardson launched the GRIP – Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership in 2003, which supplemented the regular Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan. In the GRIP, a number of corridors were widened to 2×2 lanes, most prominently a long stretch of US 54 between Alamogordo and Santa Rosa, US 62 south of Carlsbad, a section of US 64 between Raton and Clayton and much of US 491 between Gallup and the Colorado border. It was also planned to extend the stretch of I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe to 2×3 lanes in its entirety under GRIP, but this has not been implemented.

Maximum speed

The general speed limit on motorways is 75 mph. Previously 70 mph was the speed limit on non-motorways, but in 2018 portions of US 70 through White Sands and US 285 between Roswell and Vaughn were also increased to 75 mph. These are 2×2 divided highways that, given the empty landscape, function as level highways.

New Mexico Road Network