In the late 1990's, the "Big I" interchange in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which provides connections between Interstate 40 and Interstate 25, had become the 10th most congested interchange in the nation. Traffic volumes nearly ten times greater than capacity, combined with obsolete design features such as quick weaves, short on-ramps and left-hand exits, contributed to significant congestion and frequent crashes. Redesign of the interchange, ultimately reduced congestion delays by more than 90%.
Project Type:Interchange Project Mode:Highway Average Annual Daily Traffic:300,000 Length (mi):0.00
Economic Distress:0.72 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):531 Population Growth Rate (%):1.95
Employment Growth Rate (%):2.00 Market Size:319,931 Airport Travel Distance:16.1 Topography:12
Region:Southwest State:NM County:Bernillo
City:Albuquerque Urban/Class Level:Metro Local Area:Albuquerque
Impact Area:County Transportation System:Highway GIS Lat/Long:35.105474 / -106.629264
Initial Study Date:1999 Post Constr. Study Date:2006
Constr. Start Date:2000 Constr. End Date:2002
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 2002 Planned Cost (YOE $):N/A
Actual Cost (YOE $):291,000,000 Actual Cost (curr $):376,823,163
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
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NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
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By the late 1990's, the "Big I" interchange in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which provides connections between Interstate 40 and Interstate 25, had become the 10th most congested interchange in the nation. Traffic volumes nearly ten times greater than capacity, combined with obsolete design features such as quick weaves, short on-ramps and left-hand exits, contributed to significant congestion and frequent crashes. Redesign of the interchange, fast tracked and completed between 2000 and 2002, ultimately reduced congestion delays by more than 90%, with a resulting time savings estimated at 15 million hours a year. The project impacts have been primarily in time savings, which likely resulted in reduced transportation costs for many businesses. No measurable job creation impacts or changes in property values have been attributed to the project.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
Interstate 40 runs from Southern California to North Carolina. Interstate 25 is a major NAFTA route, running from Ciudad Juarez to Montana. Dubbed "The Big I", the I-40/I-25 system-to-system interchange in Albuquerque, New Mexico was originally completed in 1966 and designed to accommodate 40,000 vehicles per day. By 2001, as Big I bridges approached the end of their useful lives, more than 300,000 vehicles per day were using the interchange.
As with many of the original interchanges in the US Interstate system, the Big I is located at the center of the city near the downtown area. As the city center became congested, people moved to outer areas and peak-hour congestion problems emerged. Despite the national importance of both Interstates, a 1999 Texas Transportation Institute study reported that more than 90% of Albuquerque's highway trips were local rather than through trips. While many other cities in similar situations chose to address such congestion through circumferential "beltways", Albuquerque chose to improve the existing roadways and interchange rather than build an entirely new perimeter highway system.
Albuquerque International Sunport, served by 11 major commercial airlines, and a BNSF rail intermodal facility, are approximately 2 miles south of the Big I on I-25.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
Albuquerque, with just over 500,000 people, is the largest city in New Mexico. The Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area (MSA) accounts for nearly 40% of the statewide population. Since the 1970's, the state's population significantly outpaced population growth nationwide. In the first part of that period, most of this growth occurred within the City of Albuquerque. By the 1990's, most of the metropolitan area's population growth was occurring outside of the city.
Statewide, between 1970 and 2000, jobs grew more rapidly than population, and dramatically so in Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque. In the 1970's, statewide job growth averaged more than 8% per year, exceeding 10% per year in Albuquerque and the MSA. Rapid job growth continued throughout the 1980's and 1990's, averaging between 3.5 and 7.0 % per year in the city and MSA. Job and population growth in the MSA outside of the city has led to an increase in cross-town trips that pass through the Big I interchange.
Within the region, the economy is anchored by three major institutional employers: Kirtland Air Force Base, the University of New Mexico, and Sandia National Laboratories. The Kirtland Air Force Base has a large civilian contingent in addition to uniformed military personnel. The University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories operate large medical centers. These three major employers are all located in the southeast quadrant of Albuquerque near the airport and downtown.
The 5,000-plus employee Intel plant in the suburb of Rio Rancho is both that company's largest chip manufacturing plant and the region's largest industrial employer. Other high tech manufacturing firms in Albuquerque include Philips Semiconductors (870 employees), CTS Wireless (formerly Motorola, 500 employees), Honeywell Defense Avionics Systems (2,700 employees), Siemens, and Digital Equipment Corporation. During the 1990's, growth in these high technology manufacturing firms helped offset losses in military jobs due to the Base Realignment and Closure process, as well as reductions in defense contracts after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
By 2000, the 40-year old Big I interchange was experiencing traffic volumes nearly ten times what it was built to handle. Furthermore, the interchange had several obsolete features, such as left-hand exit ramps and quick weaves.
The new Big I is a five level stack interchange capable of accommodating 400,000 vehicles a day. Replacing the interchange consisted of the following elements:
The project improved safety by elimination of left-side exits and short off-ramps. Construction of the project was started in 2000 and was completed by 2002 at a cost of $291 million (2002 $). State-of-the-art fast tracking of the design-build process allowed the project to be completed within 23 months rather than the typical 10-12 years required for a project of this size and scope in a congested urban area.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
The American Highway User's Alliance estimates that the redesigned Big I reduced total annual delay from 16.0 million hours in 1997 to just 1.1 million in 2002, a period when traffic increased by an average of 2.6% per year. Since the vast majority of this traffic is local, the benefits of reduced congestion largely accrue to local population and businesses.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
Built at the heart of Albuquerque in the late 1960's, the area surrounding the Big I was essentially built-out long before the interchange redesign began in 2000. Office and industrial uses dominate the areas north of the interchange, while residential and institutional uses are prevalent immediately southwest and residential neighborhoods characterize the southeast quadrant. Freeway visible commercial uses line much of I-25 traveling north of the interchange, all the way to Alameda Boulevard, and significant concentrations can also be found along I-40, when traveling east of the Big I. As a result, the Big I replacement project did not significantly alter land use patterns.
Despite the dramatic reduction, no change in property values was observed as a result of the project. Though the pace of new home construction increased throughout the region, and commercial and industrial space experienced a bump as well, real estate brokers attribute this to the factors affecting real estate growth nationwide such as relaxed financing requirements and increased speculation.
Economic developers at both the state and local level stated that although the project is considered a key regional asset, it did not play a role in the recruitment or expansion of any specific firm. It is likely, however, that many firms have benefited from reduced costs due to travel time savings. Furthermore, since the completion of the Big I interchange, employment within Albuquerque has grown less rapidly than in the rest of Bernalillo County, and both Albuquerque and the county have experienced slower job growth than the state as a whole.
Employment trends in Albuquerque are largely driven by exogenous factors such as national defense spending levels and Department of Energy research budgets and priorities. Local economic growth has been driven by these industries. These factors have a far greater influence on demographic, economic and land use trends than the replacement of the Big I interchange, despite its undisputable impacts in terms of congestion reduction.
City of Albuquerque Department of Economic Development
Grubb and Ellis New Mexico
Mid-Region Council of Governments
National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, New Mexico Chapter
New Mexico Department of Economic Development
New Mexico Department of Transportation District 3
University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research
Case Study Developed by Economic Development Research Group, Inc.