New barriers installed near Gorge Bridge under cover of darkness

Posted

This story was updated Sept. 15 at 4:45 p.m. to include information from the New Mexico Dept. of Transporation.

Río Grande Gorge Bridge vendors were shocked at the start of their day Thursday (Sept. 14) to find concrete barricades had been installed along the highway shoulder where they normally sell their jewelry and goods.

In the evening hours of Wednesday (Sept. 13), over 100 concrete barriers were placed on the north and south side of U.S. Highway 64 on the west end of the gorge bridge.

Several vendors were angered at the new addition and decided to haul their tables over the barricades and sell their goods, despite the waist-high walls of concrete in their way.

"I put in a public challenge to whosever decision this was to fess up," said vendor Mathew Roger Menich.

The transportation department, did install the barriers, according to the department's spokesperson Emilee Cantrell. The deptartment secretary, Tom Church, ordered the barriers "last week," she said.

"There was no walkway," said vendor Freddie Johnson about the new barricades. "We're not destructive. We want money, that's our major objective and to live our lives."

Johnson, along with a small crew of other vendors, decided to muscle up and move one of the over 3,000 pound blocks of concrete to create a walkway for tourists to come off the sidewalk into their vending area. Barricades completely blocked off the side of the road where the sidewalk ends in the area and did not allow for anyone to pass to get to the vendors.

"I got to witness how the transition from them kicking us further an further out until we're almost gone," said Johnson. "This is the final straw, they want us out."

Within fifteen minutes of the crew moving the barrier to create a path, more than 20 people from the sidewalk migrated into the vendor's area to look at what they had to offer. Many of the vendors say they just want a place to sell their goods and to be left alone by the DOT.

Menich, along with many of the vendors, say they have a right to sell their goods on the north side of the highway as long as they are far enough from the road and traffic. The south side of the highway, known by some as the "Cul-de-sac," is a large - albeit uneven, unimproved and unofficial - parking area.

According to Menich, vending at the bridge is how many of the merchants make their livings. Authorities, he said, have been slowly pushing them off of their spot on the side of the highway near the gorge.

Vending is not allowed in the highway right-of-way and vendors were asked by the department to vacate their positions in August. In defiance of the act, several longtime vendors decided to set up their tents, trucks and tables and continue to sell their good to the tourists who regularly flock to the tables full of minerals, jewelry and other goods.

The barricades are the latest and most substantial in a string of attempts to move the vendors to a different, safer area - which have included installing new "no vending" and "no parking" signs on the north side of the highway.

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Mona Makela

Why, why, why? The vendors are making a living and the tourists love it, this is a win-win for Taos County.

Yes, the situation is dangerous and has been ever since the vendors were chased away from the east side. The BLM initially promised to accommodate the vendors but nothing has happened. Where is the "different, safer area"?

Why not provide a variance like what the vendors on Old Pecos Trail and Old Las Vegas Highway in Santa Fe have?

Shame on you Tom Church. You made the area more dangerous now even if the vendors aren't there. And the ugliest part of the National Monument.

Friday, September 15 | Report this
Sierra Listner

Why can't the City just create a small tax or fee specific to vendors at the bridge? This is actually ridiculous on so many levels.

Monday, September 18 | Report this
Kathleen Michaels

The DOT is negligent in updating the speed zone at the gorge. It is a "Pedestrian Zone". Therefore, the speed needs to be greatly reduced to a gradual speed reduction so that drivers can not drive over 10-15 mph at the pedestrian area before and on the bridge! These concrete barriers make it MORE DANGEROUS for the pedestrians. These visitors come from near and far! I believe it is the 2nd attraction of the Taos area. I cannot believe that the vendors are paying the price after the fact that a pedestrian was hurt. Once again, state agencies hurt those who are trying to fend for themselves without resolving the negative economic impact on these locals. This is a great opportunity for our county commissioners to develop something and perhaps with Taos Pueblo as they have land adjacent to this bridge. Come on NM let's do something positive to support our starving artists and craftspeople with an opportunity to make an honest living!

Tuesday, September 19 | Report this
Dawn Kohorst

First, bridge vendors were thrown off the East side by Taos Pueblo, who took ROW land, granted to NMDOT, back....it was dangerous there too....secondly, the agencies involved, BLM and NMDOT, held many meetings over the years, with bridge vendors and the vendor association, but association officers kept making demands, unreasonable demands, that lead us nowhere, by demanding uncontrolled, unmagaged, illegal vending in unsafe areas....even after the terrible hit and run accident that cost our tourist visitor his leg, anarchist, "rebel" vendors kept setting up on the north side, when asked NOT to many times by DOT District 5 Engineer Paul Brasher. , So NMDOT bermed the pullout area as well as the northside of the hiway.....completely....we had a chance to vend in the pullout but vendor lack of cooperation and selfishness blew that opportunity, as well as many opportunities offered to us by the agencies....

Tuesday, September 19 | Report this
Thebes Puttonen

I just drove by them for the first time today. I have lived on the West of the bridge for 15 years.

I am truly astonished by the pathetic games which the DOT is playing with PUBLIC SAFETY, leaving very little room between the barricades and the highway. They must really hate the supposed "business competition" for their cohorts and kin to do this to our town's tourists.

If they stay like this I am absolutely certain it will result in a pedestrian being run over. As it was I noticed twice as many people walking in the US highway as there had been for similar crowds previously.

They are an immediate danger to those visiting the bridge and are causing people to park closer to the highway than I have ever seen before!

Thursday, September 21 | Report this