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Diamond Drive project begins final lap

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Projected to take two years, Phase 4 is unveiled

By Roger Snodgrass

It’s going to take nearly two more years. It won’t be easy. But when it’s over, it will be over for a long time.

“There will be congestion; it will be inconvenient,” said Kyle Zimmerman, Los Alamos County department of public works director. “We will try to minimize it, but there will be delays and disruption.”

He was talking about Phase 4 of the Diamond Drive project that began at the San Ildefonso roundabout and will extend to the Los Alamos Canyon Bridge, skipping north and south across the mesa tops.

This phase will include the intersection of Diamond and Trinity drives, one of the busiest intersections in the town site.

“Twenty-four thousand vehicles a day use that intersection,” Zimmerman said. “That’s a lot of cars.”

Zimmerman’s presentation opened the way for questions from a handful of residents in the audience and the members of the Transportation Board at Fuller Lodge Thursday evening.

Some of the questions dealt with specific concerns by local businesses and other institutions along the road.

Bill Dunn, a resident, who said he had not complained about the Diamond Drive project before, painted a bleak picture of what he had seen in the first three phases of the project.

 “Business suffered in Phase 2,” he said, during a recitation of the delays and rough edges he saw in the aftermath of the first three phases.

“I’ve been disappointed and I don’t see that Phase 4 is necessary,” he said.

Another resident, Charles Rense, said Phase 4 was needed.

“This is guaranteed to upset the public, but even doing nothing is going to upset the public,” he said.

Mike Wismer, newly elected chair of the Los Alamos County Council, was in attendance, as was Councilor Ralph Phelps.

Phelps asked Zimmerman to discuss the project in terms of the lessons learned from the previous phases of the project.

Zimmerman said the contract documents awarded the last contractor allowed the company to drag its feet after the award and that the next contract would establish milestones up front with incentives granted and damages imposed, as a carrot and stick for timely performance.

He said the previous work schedule had been Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., during the highest volume traffic. The new schedule will be Wednesday through Sunday, avoiding the busiest traffic days on Monday and Tuesday and will include work into the evening.

Another innovation that should be helpful will be a traffic congestion model, he said, so that commuters can be advised how much of a delay they might expect.

He said there had been much discussion with the high school, which will also be going through a construction phase. He outlined an active communication program with the public and said he would be readily available.

Zimmerman’s presentation sketched the major changes for the last phase of the Diamond Drive project, to be completed over the next two construction seasons.

Phase 4 will begin at North Road and Ridgeway Drive, with utility work on both sides of the road and asphalt and concrete replacement for the roads and sidewalks.

According to Zimmerman’s presentation, this is “the bottleneck for residents and businesses north of Pueblo Canyon” and turning restrictions will be needed to keep people from cutting through on Ridgeway.

A second piece beginning at Sandia Drive extends the utility work to University Drive, where the water effluent line and the electric/communications duct from the east side of the road will cross over to the west side along with an adjusted track of water line. Meanwhile the road will be widened from Sandia to just south of University in order to accommodate a bike lane. A sidewalk will be moved behind the pedestrian overpass at Smith Auditorium. Asphalt and concrete will be reconstructed, and streetlights along diamond will be converted to LEDs, like those now on Central Avenue.

Finally, the water lines will be located in the grass area and parking lot at Sullivan Field, connecting to existing lines at the Methodist Church, while the effluent lines will be on the west side of Diamond under or behind the sidewalk.  The asphalt and concrete will be reconstructed and traffic signals and streetlights will be replaced. Asphalt and concrete will be reconstructed in the final section to the Los Alamos Canyon Bridge. There is a possibility according to the plan for a temporary removal of the medians, in order to make way for a reversible lane in the work zone.

After the meeting, Zimmerman was asked why these projects take so long.

“It’s expensive for a contractor to do work up here,” he said. “They have to put workers up in hotels or transport them up here.”

He pointed to Santa Fe’s perennial construction efforts on Cerrillos Road and to other examples in the region.

He said again that Phase 4 would be difficult, but would be worth it in the end.