Public opinion mixed on bypass road

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By Carol A. Clark

The goal of Thursday’s transportation board meeting was to hear the latest alignment options for the West Jemez Road project, analyze the West Road study results, gather public comment and vote on a recommendation to take before county council.

“Our function is to digest public comment and give that to council as part of our recommendation,” Chair Chal Spencer said. “We can’t make a recommendation tonight because we don’t have a quorum and council’s next meeting is before our board meets again.”

Four members of the seven member transportation board must be present to constitute a quorum, he said.

As an alternative, the board will present the evening’s minutes to council to make them aware of the public’s comments, Spencer said, adding that it’s a complicated issue as to whether there is consensus that the bypass road is even needed, and if so, then the technical issues as to what would be the best road to build.

“We’re at a point in the design where we need a decision on this – we can’t go any further and time is money on this now,” Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman said.

Spencer and board members Blaine Asay and Charles Trask joined some 25 residents gathered in the White Rock Fire Station Training Room as Zimmerman conducted a PowerPoint presentation on the project.

“The Los Alamos County and DOE/NNSA settlement agreement took place in April 2006,” Zimmerman said. “The county has until April of 2011 to begin construction of a connector road bypass.”

To date the project has cost $1,509,210, he said. The Department of Transportation released $1.214 million for the West Jemez Road Bypass project last week.

Zimmerman explained that the estimated total project costs for the proposed options would range from $12.26 - $23.25 million for the West Jemez Bypass, $3.34 - $3.81 million for the West Jemez Bypass intersection, and if the decision is not to build the road, then $4.3 - $13.99 million to complete upgrades to West Road.

Trask is the traffic engineer for Los Alamos National Laboratory and clarified that his comments were not tied to that position but to his capacity as a board member and professional engineer. He spoke against fixing West Road as the alternative to constructing the bypass. “The cheap option in my opinion is really not an option,” Trask said. “If we’re going to spend money at all, then we should do it correctly.”

He said the goals laid out for the 90-percent design plan are sound. “The 90-percent design, in my opinion, is still the best option of all,” he said.”

Discussion was brought up about whether LANL would ever shut down West Jemez Road. Trask told the crowd that when the lab shut down Pajarito Road, suddenly 3,000 cars a day shifted to the front hill road. “Which was odd,” he said. “We thought they’d shift to the truck route – so that’s something to think about in the future.”

An audience member said if the NNSA Site Office plans to close West Jemez Road sometime the future, then the office needs to be forthcoming now.

Audience members represented ski hill, developer and hikers’ perspectives. George Lawrence, a longtime ski hill advocate, told the board that the bypass road is very bit as important as the Diamond Drive upgrades currently under construction.

“The ski hill depends on the good attendance by the people of the outside world,” Lawrence said.

Others expressed concern with disturbing the beauty of the area with a new road as well as speeders on the road because it would be long and straight.

Geoff Rogers explained that the future of Los Alamos is its beauty. “I think this is a bad idea ... I don’t think spending $15 million on a road is what we want...we can spend a whole lot less money buying some really nice signs directing people to where they want to go,” he said.

Faye Brown also wants to bypass the idea of a bypass road and instead do a little upgrading around the West Road intersection, which currently allows drivers to avoid the security section of the lab.

One of the individuals involved in the Research Park explained that they own the property in the area and it will be developed, adding that everything will be done to maintain the environment that can be done when constructing a building.

Spencer wrapped up the evening praising Zimmerman for his detailed presentation and telling the audience he found the meeting to be “extremely informative and very civilized.”

The public can provide comment through Thursday and at the June 17 county council meeting at the Community Building on 20th Street and Central Avenue.

Comments can be mailed to Public Works/WJB, PO Box 30, Los Alamos, NM 87544 or e-mailed to lacpw@lacnm.us. The transportation board meets again July 3.