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Valley Drive construction nightmare finally over


(Publisher’s note: Please turn to the center spread of this edition for more info about the history and businesses of Valley Drive and its construction.)

I badly needed to go to the restroom.

It was Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. I remember the date for two reasons: 1. It was the day of the Las Cruces Veterans Day Parade and, 2. It was the day of Bedlam (the annual football game between the evil OU Sooners and my alma mater, Oklahoma State University).

My daughter, Avalon, and I had just left the parade and were searching for a place to use the restroom and watch the game.

It was to be a very quick trip from downtown to Mesilla via Avenida de Mesilla. Avalon had just gotten her learner’s permit and was driving the car. Although, very soon, she wasn’t really driving, because Avenida de Mesilla had inexplicably turned into a parking lot.

Unwittingly, we had discovered construction crews had begun work on the Valley and Avenida de Mesilla intersection, which wasn’t supposed to happen until an earlier phase of the project had been completed.

This turned the New Mexico Department of Transportation construction project, already a major inconvenience, into the worst nightmare for every business on or near Valley Drive. (Well, it did work out OK for the business at 1865 S. Valley Drive – Las Cruces Barricades.)

A coincidentally concurrent City of Las Cruces project just east of Valley on and around Hadley Avenue compounded the issue for businesses near the Hadley/Valley intersection.

La Fiesta Bakery closed due to the negative impact. Patrons of the often-packed Nellie’s and High Desert Brewing Co. at times found themselves literally cut off from their beloved haunts.

After sitting on Avenida for nearly 30 minutes that November 2018 day, we finally found a restroom and a place to watch the game (which ended in another heartbreaking Cowboy loss, as OU won 48-47).

But businesspeople and others who regularly have to use Valley Drive would have to wait another 18 months for relief.

The Valley Drive nightmare finally ended in May 2020, as construction crews wrapped up the loose ends, resulting in a beautiful roadway. I’m sounding pretty negative about the construction, but repairs had been badly needed for a while, and the infrastructure in place now is an improvement that should last a long time.

If the construction had followed the originally promised pattern, things would have been reduced. There were originally three phases: Phase I was from Picacho to Hadley. Phase II was from Hadley to Amador. Phase III was from Amador to Avenida de Mesilla. Starting on Phase III when Phase I wasn’t complete not only violated the agreed-upon plan, it held captive every business between Picacho and Avenida de Mesilla.

We all have several horror stories like mine of being trapped in one segment or another of the construction. But businesses in the middle of it didn’t have the option of taking a different route.

“First we had the construction, now the virus,” said Mary Lopez, owner of One Stop convenience store on Valley, which has some of the best burritos in town, including the only Spam, egg and green chile burrito around. “It’s been very tough on small businesses. Very difficult. But we’re going to make it. Somehow.”

When Mary says “somehow,” it’s not terribly convincing. Many of these businesses won’t recover from the construction/COVID double whammy. And those that do survive will never recover the losses.

“I am not the most accurate business to ask about being affected,” said George Vescovo of Vescovo Toyota, which broke the ribbon on its brand new Valley Drive building in March 2018, about a month before construction kicked in.

“We were fortunate to have a very loyal customer base and we’re the only Toyota dealer in town,” he said. “People weren’t going elsewhere to buy or service a Toyota. I don’t think many others were as fortunate.”

Indeed, buying a car is a different matter than buying tacos for lunch or donuts for breakfast.

The finished product of Valley Drive, though, is a good one.

“I love it,” Vescovo said. “It’s probably one of the nicest streets in the city right now.”

I spent a lot of money over the years at German-Japanese Auto Repair, another business that didn’t survive the construction. And I’ve had my share of One Stop burritos, and the RC Cola they sell there. Enjoyed the blueberry gingerbread pancakes at the Shed. Spent some more time and money at Sisbarro Volkswagen. And, of course, love the adovada pork steaks at Ranchway BBQ.

Each of you have your favorite places on Valley Drive.

Once again, you can enjoy them without endless traffic hassles.

Except now you may have to wait on the coronavirus.