New barriers installed near Gorge Bridge
Defiant vendors continue to sell goods on side of U.S. 64
TAOS — Rio Grande Gorge Bridge vendors were shocked one morning last week 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, state workers had placed more than 100 concrete barriers on the north and south sides of U.S. 64 on the west end of the bridge, areas that had been popular spots for local vendors to sell handmade goods and other items.
But vending in the highway right of way violates state law, and concerns were heightened last month after a 74-year-old man was struck by a vehicle and seriously injured.
Following the incident, vendors who for years have been setting up their tables of art, rocks and jewelry on the north shoulder of U.S. 64 were told to move by officials with the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
While some of the vendors complied, moving to the south side of the highway, where other vendors sell goods in a large, unimproved parking area, many defied the order and continued to sell their goods on the north shoulder.
On Thursday, vendors angered by the new barricade similarly decided to defy the Transportation Department, hauling their tables over the waist-high wall of barricades and selling their goods.
“I put in a public challenge to whose ever decision this was to fess up,” said vendor Mathew Roger Menich.
The New Mexico Transportation Department installed the barriers, according to the department’s spokeswoman, Emilee Cantrell. Transportation Secretary Tom Church ordered the barriers, she said.
“We’re not destructive,” said vendor Freddie Johnson, complaining that barricades left no pathway for bridge visitors to reach the vending area. “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.
“I got to witness the transition from them kicking us further and further out until we’re almost gone,” Johnson said. “This is the final straw. They want us out.”
Within 15 minutes of the crew moving the barrier to create a path, more than 20 people migrated from the sidewalk into the vending area to view the goods.
Menich, along with other vendors, said they feel 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.
According to Menich, vending at the bridge is how many of the merchants make their livings.
A version of this story first appeared in The Taos News ,a sister paper of The Santa Fe New Mexican.
Vending in the highway right of way violates state law.
Tourists watch as a crew of bridge vendors moves a barricade to create a walkway for people to access their goods. Vendors arrived Thursday morning to hundreds of new concrete barriers placed in the area where they normally sell merchandise.