Spaceport America Southern Road Improvements Move Forward

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Richard Branson and his children hang out with Project Bandaloop dancers during the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space facility. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Richard Branson and his children hang out with Project Bandaloop dancers during the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space facility in October 2011. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

A project to improve a 24-mile dirt road to Spaceport America is moving forward, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports.

Doña Ana County commissioners in mid-December OK’d an agreement with several government entities involved in the southern-road project that spells out its parameters and how historical and cultural sites will be protected during construction.

“There are still some administrative things that have to happen, some things that have to be reviewed and signed and approved,” said County Manager Julia Brown. “But if there are no further speed bumps in the road, no pun intended, we expect we’ll be in the position to issue an RFP (request for proposals) for a construction contract in the spring. And then, after the appropriate review of that, we should be able to see the start of construction either late spring or at the very beginning of the summer.”

Doña Ana County has been tasked with overseeing construction of the road, currently a dirt route that reaches from the Upham Exit of Interstate 25 north to Spaceport America — a $218.5 million, taxpayer-owned launch site for suborbital space vehicles. But the route crosses a combination of lands belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, private individuals and the State Land Office. The route’s proximity to El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail, a north-south route that connected Mexico City to Santa Fe, had sparked concerns among historical preservation advocates….

Now, there is a dirt route leading to the spaceport, but it’s not adequate to sustain regular traffic, officials have said. What’s proposed to be built is an improved road, though not all-out asphalt pavement, spaceport officials have said. In addition, concrete “box culverts” are slated to be installed at two arroyo crossings along the path, Rincon Arroyo and Yost Draw, according to county documents.

The project will provide more direct access to the spaceport from Las Cruces and cut about an hour off a trip that now takes 1 hour 45 minutes.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority, which runs the spaceport, will pick up the estimated $14 million cost of the project. The spaceport has already cost New Mexico taxpayers more than $218.5 million in development and operational expenses.

Spaceport America was constructed for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which plans to fly space tourists aboard SpaceShipTwo.  Development and testing of the suborbital space plane is running 10 years behind its original schedule.