Council approves NM502/Trinity Drive motion

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NM502: "Hybrid" option wins strong support.

By Arin McKenna

In a 6-1 vote, council approved motion option 1 out of five possible options for a redesign of NM 502/Trinity Drive between Knecht and Airport Road. Councilor Vincent Chiravalle voted against the motion in support of motion option 4, a four-lane option with a stop light at the Central/4th Street intersection, similar to a 2007 New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) proposal.

Over 30 of the 48 residents who spoke during public comment were clearly in support of the motion, which was also the option supported by the Transportation Board.

Motion option 1 in its entirety reads:

One lane in each direction with widened medians at the intersections of Airport Road and Tewa Loop that are designed for a travel speed of 35 miles per hour; west of Tewa Loop NM502 will be one lane each direction with a center median for landscaping, left turn bays, and pedestrian refuge; up to two pedestrian hybrid beacons (HAWKs) will be installed between the Tewa Loop and Canyon Road intersections; the Canyon Road intersections will be reconfigured to increase deflection to reduce vehicle speeds; between Canyon Road and Central Ave or where determined necessary by the NM Department of Transportation, two east bound lanes from Central will merge to one east bound lane; the center median will continue along with one west bound lane; the Central Ave and 4th Street intersections with NM502 will be combined into one intersection controlled by a roundabout; west of Central and 4th, NM502 will have two east bound lanes, a center median, and one west bound lane; the DP Road intersection will be reconfigured using existing right-of-way to be more of a 90 degree intersection with NM502; and west of the DP Road intersection, NM502 will connect to the existing road section of two lanes east bound, a center median, and two lanes west bound; sidewalks will be included on both sides of NM502 from Tewa Loop to DP Road. This option is to be modified to incorporate bicycle lanes or bicycle paths where it is physically viable and cost-effectively feasible to so do in the opinion of the NM Department of Transportation and Los Alamos County."

Councilor Mike Wismer, who made the motion, summed up many of the reasons for its support.

"Democracy can be messy sometimes, and it takes a while, but we've set up a situation where we've had a lot of input on the pros and cons of various options, and out of that our traffic engineer decided, after listening to all this input, that another option was feasible and he presented that, and it seems to make sense to us.

"I've lived in many parts of the world that have roundabouts. I know that they can work, I've seen them work in many parts of the world.

"A big selling point for me is that this is very much consistent with the policy for design of streets and right-of-way that council approved. The process to get to that policy was very collaborative and we had lots of iterations of that policy before we finally approved it. But it should be our guiding principal and this option does meet the major requirements of that policy.

As reasons for his support, Wismer specifically cited evidence that roundabouts reduce accidents and allow for continuous flow while reducing speeds, as well as having significantly lower maintenance costs. "It's fiscally responsible to take the option that is going to cost the least amount of maintenance over the long haul."

Wismer also liked the fact that this option was multimodal and allowed for safe passage of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcycles.

Watch lamonitor.com for further details on the council decision and public input.

Wismer thanked the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for their detailed study of the pros and cons of each option, which gave rise to this synthesis by county Traffic Engineer Kyle Zimmerman, which Wismer said "garnered the best and the brightest of the input from the TAC committee."

County traffic engineers must conduct a further analysis of the Tewa Loop and Airport Road intersections, and may make some adjustments to assure compliance with the New Mexico Department of Transportation's requirements for capacity. The county's analysis will be reviewed by NMDOT. If any significant adjustments are required, the motion will return to council for approval.

The last steps of the process will be an Environmental Impact Statement - which could take six months to a year to complete - followed by final construction documents.

Watch www.lamonitor.com for further details on the council decision and community input.