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NM502/DP Road project to begin in 2011

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By Jennifer Garcia

New Mexico Department of Transportation improvements to NM502/DP Road have been put on hold for a couple of years.

During Tuesday night’s county council meeting, NMDOT Tech Support Engineer David Martinez and Project Development Engineer David Quintana presented council with an update and laid out plans for what’s in store for that stretch of road.

According to the county’s website, the general scope of this project includes pavement rehabilitation/reconstruction of NM502 from Knecht Street to Tewa Loop, DP Road intersection realignment and improvements, Canyon Road intersection realignment, drainage improvements involving a storm drain from DP Road towards Canyon Road, curb and gutter with sidewalk enhancements, along with miscellaneous safety improvements.

Quintana said pedestrian enhancements and sidewalk work is part of the plan. He also said NMDOT will do pedestrian observations the last week of June and two weeks into July. “We’re doing pedestrian observations to get more facts about what kinds of movements pedestrians are doing on NM502,” Quintana said.

In addition, the plan includes making Central Avenue a 90-degree intersection. “It’ll be a signalized intersection where it lines with DP Road,” Quintana explained. “There will be no signals on NM502, but there will be increased signage and five-foot sidewalks,” he continued.

Councilor Nona Bowman asked Quintana if there were provisions for a bike lane.

“Not currently,” Quintana responded, “bicyclists are allowed to use our roads. That wasn’t part of our process when it was publicly vetted.”

He also said the majority of the road will be a four lane section with a turning lane. “There will be three driving lanes by Tewa Loop and a turning lane,” Quintana said.

Council Chair Michael Wheeler told Quintana and Martinez that Alternative Six makes sense, however, he thinks bike lanes are appropriate, desired and needed.

“Bike lanes, at least on our side, are needed,” he commented.

Because construction on NM502/DP Road is scheduled to begin in 2011, Councilor Ralph Phelps mentioned to Quintana and Martinez that the Department of Energy is planning to do cleanup work on TA-21 around the same time.

“Are you prepared to accommodate the heavy trucks?” Phelps asked.

Quintana said that he was unaware of the DOE’s plans, but told Phelps that major work won’t start until the spring of 2012. Phelps then recommended that Quintana speak to the DOE about their plans.

The project has been ongoing and a few public meetings regarding the plans were held. The first public information meeting was held on February 2, 2005, at Los Alamos High School.

Forty-five people attended that meeting, during which preliminary design concepts were presented and the public was afforded the opportunity to give their input.

A second meeting was held on March 16, 2006, during which design alternatives were presented and updates were given to interested groups on the progress of key findings and recommendations of the study to date.

During that meeting, the study team was able to get feedback from the public and listen to public comments.

A preferred alternative, also known as Alternative Six, was selected based on feedback from the community that meets the project’s purpose and need.

It was determined that Alternative Six would be carried forward into final design.

It was also determined during the meeting by those present, that roundabouts at intersections were not favored. Alternative Six does not contain any roundabouts in the plan.

On July 5, 2006, a preliminary design review was conducted. Then on June 21, 2007, another public meeting was held, during which updated information was presented and the public was solicited for their input on the project and intersection concepts.

In addition, information on the preferred alternative was presented and comments on the Environmental Assessment were solicited as well.

Since the 2007 meeting, however, no other public meetings have been held and that has residents concerned.

A handful of Los Alamos residents turned out for the meeting and voiced their opinions and concerns about the work and the lack of information about the project.

They are particularly concerned that the project’s design is about 75 percent complete.

Scott Schilling spoke out on behalf of East Park Pool.

“I’m concerned with getting the kids across NM502 safely,” he said. He also explained how difficult and dangerous it is to cross that stretch of road.

Bruce Layman also spoke to council during the meeting, however, he seemed unaware that Alternative Six had been chosen over the other five options.

“Alternative Two is the only one that proposes the construction of a new road.”

He also said that if Alternative Six had been decided upon already, then he’d refrain from sharing his comments about Alternative Two. Wheeler explained to him that Alternative Six had been chosen, so Layman did not comment further on the plans, but asked that he be put on an e-mail list to receive updates regarding the project.

Una Smith said that traffic coming into town does not expect pedestrians to be on NM502.

“Some vehicles will stop where there’s no pedestrian refuge. I’ve been involved in accidents because of that,” Smith said.

Janie O’Rourke of LA Walks also voiced her opinion about not being kept in the loop regarding the project.

“I attended the first meeting in ’05 and lots of people were there. That’s the last time I knew about any meetings. We’ve changed a lot since ’05. I hope the county opens the project up again,” she said.

Don Mason told council that he thinks there are many problems with the project and plans.

“Things are not right, they’re backwards. We need to think about the big picture,” he said.

The estimated budget, excluding utility work, is $3,640,000, with cost sharing of NMDOT paying 75 percent and Los Alamos County paying 25 percent.

The project has been delayed because of funding availability and is expected to begin in the fall of 2011.