US 491 and 550 in New Mexico
US 491 in New Mexico
US 491 is a US Highway in the US state of New Mexico. The road forms a north-south route in the northwest part of the state, from Gallup on Interstate 40 to the Colorado border past Shiprock. The road is 175 kilometers long.
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US 491 at Bennett Peak, 25 miles south of Shiprock.
US 491 begins in Gallup, a small town of 20,000 people in western New Mexico. US 491 begins at an intersection with Interstate 40, the highway from Flagstaff in Arizona to Albuquerque. US 491 has been fully extended with 2×2 lanes and runs through the desert to the north. The road runs largely over a plateau at an altitude of about 2000 meters. To the west are the Chuska Mountains, which reach about 2800 meters. To the east, the plateau extends much further. This area is called Navajo Nation, and it is an Indian reservation. The landscape is desolate and after about 150 kilometers you reach the town of Shiprock. Here one crosses US 64, the east-west route from the border with Arizonato Farmington and Taos. Not far after Shiprock follows the border with Colorado. US 491 in Colorado then continues to Cortez.
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In 1926, this route was renumbered US 666, as a spur to US 66 passing through Gallup. In 2003, this route was renumbered US 491.
In the first half of the 1930s, the first portion of US 491 was paved, from Gallup northward, initially a small portion to Twin Lakes around 1935. By 1940, the route was largely paved, only the northernmost part of Shiprock to the Colorado state border was unpaved at the time. This was paved in the mid-1940s, it was one of the few US Highways in New Mexico to be paved during World War II.
Presumably in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the section from Gallup to Twin Lakes was widened to a 2×2 divided highway, as well as a short section north and south of Shiprock. In 2003 the Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership (GRIP) was launched, one of the projects was to widen US 491 integrally to 2×2 lanes on the sections where it was still single-lane. This was largely carried out in the period 2014-2016. Finally, the portion from Shiprock to the Colorado border was widened to 2×2 lanes in 2017.
The road still handles quite a bit of traffic, especially tourist traffic to Navajo Nation and the national parks in Utah and Arizona. North of Gallup, 22,000 vehicles drive the 2×2 section, which drops to about 4,500 vehicles through Navajo Nation.
US 550 in New Mexico
US 550 is a US Highway in the US state of New Mexico. The road forms a north-south route through the northwest of the state, from Interstate 25 on the north side of Albuquerque through Bloomfield to the Colorado border. The entire route has been expanded with 2×2 lanes. The road is 280 kilometers long.
US 550 near Albuquerque, overlooking the Sandia Mountains.
Just north of the city of Albuquerque, US 550 exits from Interstate 25, the highway from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and Denver. The road has 2×2 lanes and passes by a remote suburb of Albuquerque, after which the road heads into the desert. To the north are the Jemez Mountains, which reach about 3000 meters, to the south the San Mateo mountains. The US 550 itself runs quite flat over a plateau. The road rises slightly to the Continental Divide, which is about 2200 meters away. US 550 is a road that passes only a few places, mostly hamlets on the 150 miles from Albuquerque to Bloomfield. Only a few seasonal rivers run through this harsh landscape. Due to the lack of intersections, the road often resembles a highway. No other major roads are crossed on the way to Bloomfield, mostly local roads with no through importance. In Bloomfield one crosses the US 64, the road from Farmington to Taos in the Rocky Mountains. After Bloomfield the town of Aztec follows, after which the 2×2 US 550 continues to the border with Colorado. US 550 in Colorado then continues to Durango.
The road was originally known by the numbers of several state highways. This was State Route 19 from the Colorado border to Aztec, State Route 55 between Aztec and Cuba, and State Route 44 between Cuba and Bernalillo.
US 550 was created in 1926 and initially ran only in Colorado. In 1934, the route was extended south to Shiprock, and since 1999 the route begins just outside Albuquerque at Bernalillo on I-25. During the 1990s, the entire US 550 was widened into a divided highway with 2×2 lanes. This was completed in late 2001 and cost $314 million.
In the first half of the 1930s, the northernmost part between the border with Colorado and Aztec was asphalted. At the end of the 1930s, the southern part between Cuba and Bernalillo followed. The middle section of the route was paved in the mid-1940s, along with nearby US 491, these were the only US Highways to be paved during World War II, possibly due to its proximity to Los Alamos, where the US atomic bomb was developed. At the time, northwestern New Mexico was also the only region not accessible by tarmac roads.
Later, US 550 was widened integrally to a 2×2 divided highway over its entire length from the Colorado border to Bernalillo. Most of the doubling took place in the 1990s. US 550 is the main route to northwestern New Mexico. San Juan County is New Mexico’s most populous county not served by Interstate Highways.
In November 2021, a continuous-flow intersection (CFI) opened at the intersection of US 550 with State Highway 528 at Bernalillo. This was the first CFI in New Mexico.
The intensities are not high for a 2×2 road. Just after Albuquerque there are still 10,000 vehicles per day, but this quickly drops to about 3,000 vehicles in the desert. 10,000 vehicles drive around Bloomfield and 10,000 vehicles cross the border into Colorado every day.