Notorious intersection to get an overhaul

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By Tris DeRoma

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will add design and safety improvements this summer to the intersection of N.M. 4 and East Jemez Road in White Rock, a dangerous intersection notorious for collisions, according National Nuclear Security Administration officials.

Los Alamos officials were pleased with the announcement.

“Doing something about that intersection was the county’s number one priority,” said Los Alamos Deputy County Manager Brian Bosshardt. “We were in those meetings pushing hard to make sure that project was included on the overall list in terms of how they were going to spend the $12 million in road projects.”

East Jemez Road, from Diamond Drive all the way down to N.M. 4, will be improved as part of a plan to upgrade safety on the roads used by Los Alamos National Laboratory to transport waste.

Officials connected to maintaining the road estimate that at least four to five major accidents have occurred at that intersection last year.

The major contributing factor is bottlenecking that occurs at peak commute times. Drivers backed up onto East Jemez get impatient, and some of the accidents were caused by drivers trying to turn from East Jemez onto N.M. 4 when the light is yellow. They don’t always make the turn and some vehicles are broadsided by other drivers heading to and from White Rock on N.M. 4.

“If we’re able to widen that intersection and get more people through a light cycle, that’s going to decrease the number of people leaving the lab,” Bosshardt said. “The more people you can get through an intersection, the less frustrated people you’re going to have waiting for that light.  Part of the frustration that causes people to do that, is that they are sitting in backed up traffic.”

The Army Corps of Engineer’s plans to upgrade the intersection were announced during a presentation at the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities in Española Friday.

The project, which will include all of the Department of Energy’s roads in Los Alamos County, will cost about $12 million, and is funded through a settlement the DOE reached with the state over the release of toxic waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad in 2014.

 “It’s our hope that we will be able to get some asphalt down this summer,” NNSA official Peter Maggiore said at the meeting. “It will (the entire project) involve a significant amount of design and engineer work working with Los Alamos County, NMDOT and our contractor for this will be the US. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal, who is also a member of the coalition, was happy the intersection was going to get a much-needed redesign.

“I was pleased they were going to work on that. It was something that I had already targeted. It was something that I wanted to work on with the New Mexico Department of Transportation,” Roybal said.

As for the number of accidents that happened there in 2016, Roybal remembers a few.

“I think I remember five, but there could’ve been more than that,” he said.

East Jemez Road is the main starting route for waste being transported from LANL to disposal destinations throughout the country.

The East Jemez Road project was just one of five projects the NNSA was overseeing as part of the settlement.

Others included the Watershed Enhancement Project and the Surface Water Sampling and Monitoring Project.

With the Watershed Enhancement Project, the NNSA will oversee the design and installation of a network of structures that will slow down stormwater flows and keep toxic sediment from LANL’s former waste sites from moving. The project will be paid for with $7.5 million in federal funds.

The Surface Water Sampling and Monitoring Project will cost $2.5 million to implement. A big part of it includes a major software upgrade that will help LANL and other agencies get more from the data.

“What we’re trying to accomplish with that $2.5 million is not only physically collecting, analyzing and interpreting water samples, but improving the database all the data goes through,” Maggiore said. “It’s a great database, but we have received some criticism that it’s not as easily accessed, particularly by members of the public.”

The regional coalition worked closely with the NNSA and the state to make sure northern New Mexico received a share of the settlement to help improve safety and security in the region.

“We’ve been very pleased with how the supplemental environmental projects have been put together and what they’ve been able to designate and accomplish what they have so far,” said RCLC Executive Director Andrea Romero.

Please improve intersection for the MORNING commute

The accidents that I'm aware of did not involve "drivers backed up onto East Jemez get impatient, and some of the accidents were caused by drivers trying to turn from East Jemez onto N.M. 4 when the light is yellow" as the article says. This scenario describes the evening commute. Rather, I believe the majority of accidents are in the morning when drivers from White Rock are trying to turn left onto the truck route. It is very difficult to tell whether the oncoming drivers, heading south on NM 4, are turning right onto the truck route or going straight through the intersection into White Rock. In addition, many of those drivers are traveling at a high rate of speed. The intersection needs to be looked at from the perspective of avoiding these morning accidents, either making the left turn from NM 4 to the truck route a "green arrow only" turn, installing visual cues such as pylons so that drivers can more easily distinguish which way the oncoming traffic is going, or better enforcement of the speed limit.