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Council seeks traffic noise fix

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County also wants firm to look at Oppenheimer/Central intersection

By Kirsten Laskey

The scope of MIG Inc.’s work in the county will extend beyond the N.M. 502 corridor study, in spite of the fact that some councilors question the firm’s ability to tackle a noise abatement project.

In a 4-3 vote, the Los Alamos County Council approved adding $65,036 to the corridor study project budget for the consulting firm to look at sound mitigation in the Eastern Area as well as conduct a study to develop design alternatives for the Oppenheimer/Central intersection.

Council agreed to raise the total corridor study budget to $383,692 during its regular meeting Tuesday night.

MIG was asked to provide plans for noise mitigation approaches including how a sound barrier could be configured along the north side of N.M. 502 between Tewa Loop and Airport Road by April 7.

The sound mitigation study is in response to a citizen petition which asked council to resolve what residents indicate is a high level of traffic noise in the Eastern Area neighborhood, which is located near the Los Alamos Airport.

Sue Pope, a resident in Eastern Area, presented the petition during the Jan. 25 council meeting. At the time, council agreed to direct staff to explore options and costs associated with mitigating the sound in the Eastern Area.

Citizens also have expressed concerns with the Oppenheimer/Central Intersection. Originally, a group of residents submitted the project for phase one study funds during the most recent capital improvement project funding cycle but at the Dec. 7 special meeting, council decided to place the study into the Public Works Department budget.

The problem, is that the department lacks the manpower to tackle these projects, Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman said.

Plus, MIG has the expertise and is a good fit for the project, he said.

Council Vice Chair Jim Hall agreed; saying by having a consultant already on board, “I think this is a faster way to get an end conclusion.”

Betsy Lucido, engineering project manager, said Public Works plans to host a neighborhood meeting on March 15. During the meeting, MIG would discuss results of the sound study and the options for buffering or otherwise reducing traffic noise in the Eastern Area. MIG would return for a public meeting April 7 with a preferred strategy and schedule for mitigating the sound.

A separate meeting also is planned for March 15 to discuss the Oppenheimer/Central intersection, she told the Los Alamos Monitor Wednesday. During this meeting, Lucido said MIG consultants will present a traffic count and existing conditions at the intersection. Consultants will gather input from the public for safety solutions in the intersection. The project’s objective is to improve safety for both pedestrians and cars, she said.

Not all the councilors thought this was the right route. Councilors Vincent Chiravalle, Geoff Rodgers and Ron Selvage opposed the motion.

Selvage said he’s concerned MIG is not the right firm to conduct a sound study. He questioned whether the consulting firm had the expertise to look into sound barriers and said MIG has not been responsive in addressing the public’s comments when the feedback does not mesh with what the firm recommends.

For instance, Selvage said MIG proposes to include roundabouts in the N.M. 502 corridor study although the community’s response to roundabouts has been mixed.

Selvage suggested the county issue a separate request for proposals (RFP) to hire another firm to do the work. By doing so, he added, the county also could see if the $65,000 MIG quoted for the work is low or high compared to other bids.

Chiravalle agreed. He said the sound problem in the Eastern Area should be addressed directly and moved that the staff issue an RFP for the design and construction of a sound barrier but the motion failed to pass.
By not issuing an RFP, he said, “we’re not effective or decisive for our citizens in the Eastern Area.”

Zimmerman argued that a contract already is in place with a firm that can do the work. As result, it would save time and the projects will be completed quicker.

He added a sound study is needed because there is no certainty in terms of what it will take to fix the problem. There is any number of possible solutions such as pavement treatment or a sound wall, Zimmerman said.

“We don’t know enough right now to do a design/build,” he said.

During the public comment period, Pope said as much as she did not want to add to the workload at the Public Works department, she does not believe MIG is capable of doing the sound study in a reasonable time.

However, Los Alamos resident Janie O’Rourke advocated for MIG, saying she is pleased with the work the firm has done so far. She added that she was involved in the work to improve N.M. 4 and after hearing from several consulting firms, MIG stood above them all.