Diamond in the rough

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By Carol A. Clark

Focused efforts are underway to minimize the impact Diamond Drive Phase II has on area businesses, commuters, bicyclists and pedestrians. Council voted 6-to-1 Tuesday in favor of retaining a split-phased traffic signal at the intersection of Diamond Drive / Arkansas Avenue / 38th Street while road construction affects the area’s ebb and flow.

Council Vice Chair Robert Gibson voted against the motion.

“I think it would work better for everyone without the left turns,” Gibson said. “Through traffic would be delayed much less. Fewer people would bypass the Conoco intersection on residential streets. Traffic to North Community including the businesses will usually get to its destination faster via the Urban Road detour rather then waiting in backed up traffic for the left arrow.”

Phase II will run through October and area businesses have expressed serious concern about their livelihoods.

At the request of Councilor Ken Milder, council heard staff discussion and public comment on the issue Tuesday evening in Council Chambers.

“This affects the businesses very much,” said Hilltop Shopping Center owner Leonard Beebe. “Think if you reduced your salary by 30 percentfor six months, how would you survive. It’s easy to lose a business but it’s very hard to get it back once it’s gone.”

Beebe worked in security at LANL before retiring and told council he had a saying, “The risk of losing information is attitude over convenience,” adding that the risk of losing a businesses is also attitude over convenience.

Beebe thanked Public Works Department Director Kyle Zimmerman and Project Manager Rey Gonzales for meeting with business owners about the situation.

He also thanked council, saying, “I don’t know how you all do it. Thank you for supporting the businesses and I want to thank the community for supporting the businesses also.”

Zimmerman was out of town and attended Tuesday’s meeting by telephone while Gonzales and Transportation Division Manager Nancy Talley fielded questions in person.

Zimmerman discussed a work zone chronology he sent to council in a memo May 16.

He explained that Phase II, which involves 35th Street to south of 39th Street, began April 21.

“On May 6, traffic signal timing was converted to a split phase timing,” he said.

The split-phase timing means that northbound and southbound traffic on Diamond Drive gets a green light in only one direction at a time to enable left turns without having to wait for a break in oncoming traffic.

Zimmerman and Milder met with business owners Friday. “This is a real tough problem to keep the traffic moving and get the customers to the businesses,” Milder said.

Milder highlighted several ideas that came out of the meeting such as when large equipment is moved, he said, it is better to just shut down one lane at a time as the equipment moves across the road. He also mentioned additional training for roadway flaggers and providing clearer signage. The county has put up detour signs listing each business.

“We’re spending millions and millions of dollars to improve the community and I don’t want to see what I call collateral damage,” Milder said.

Resident Patricia Max asked council, “What’s the plan for bicycle traffic – What’s the plan for pedestrian traffic?”

The speed limit in the work zone has been reduced to 25 mph, Zimmerman said, and the county is urging motorists traveling through the work zone, which extends south of the Baptist Church to east of 35th Street, to use extreme caution.

The county also asks commuters to consider riding Atomic City Transit, carpooling or flexing schedules whenever possible.

The councilors expressed support for the businesses and encouraged community support.

“We need to do what we can to reduce the pain and get this wrapped up as soon as we can,” Council Chair Jim Hall said.

Councilor Mike Wheeler praised Zimmerman and his staff for all their efforts to keep the project moving and at the same time minimizing any ill effects to the businesses.

Councilor Nona Bowman urged the public to support the businesses during this difficult time.

She also looked on the bright side saying, “I think in the long run people are going to be happy with the outcome of Diamond Drive. It’ll take time but we’ll get it done if we’re patient and we all work together.”

The entire scope of the Diamond Drive project includes pavement rehabilitation and reconstruction from and including the San Ildefonso roundabout up to the Omega (Los Alamos Canyon) Bridge.

The project is being constructed in four phases. Phase III design, which involves 39th Street to North Road is at 90 percent with construction scheduled to begin in the spring 2009.

Phase IV, which involves North Road to Omega Bridge, is currently at 30 percent with a projected construction start date of March 2010.

For project updates, access, www.lac-nm.us.