Residents get a glimpse of bypass route

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By Jennifer Garcia

A group of about 42 gathered in the parking lot of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Research Park on Sunday, eagerly awaiting the beginning of their walking tour of the proposed West Jemez Bypass route.


There was a mix of attendees that turned out for the tour, coordinated by county staff, which included residents in favor of, and opposed to the bypass, county councilors, Los Alamos county residents and members from the Chamber of Commerce.


The weather was ideal for a short hike through some rough terrain. Most hikers came prepared for the half-mile trek, equipped with water bottles, walking sticks and sturdy hiking boots.


A mix of mud and snow, as well as some steep, hilly areas proved to be a challenge for some hikers, as they walked along the proposed site, which skirts LANL property.


Maps which marked the proposed route were handed out to all hikers at the beginning of the tour and every 10 or so feet of the trail was marked with a stake and was numbered, courtesy of the county’s surveying team.


During the walk, county staff members stopped and answered hikers’ questions regarding the site and design of the bypass. One hiker, who was at the back of the group commented during one of the stops and said to her companion, “What a colossal waste of money.”


Indeed, some county residents do feel that the bypass is a huge waste of money. The approved budget for the roadway is $11,940,001, while the intersection budget is $3,500,00, for a project total of $15,440,001. One of the residents opposed to the bypass is Skip Dunn of White Rock.


Though he said that he felt the tour was well organized, he also said, “We’re only hearing one side of the story and it’s super rosy. I have been opposed because of the extreme waste of money.”


He also said that he felt that the county already has a fine alternate road (West Road) for the time being.


Another resident opposed to the project is Greg Kendall. In an effort to get council to reconsider constructing the bypass, Kendall and other residents signed and presented council with a petition. In fact, Kendall will make a presentation to council during the March 2 meeting, which is being held for the sole purpose of discussing this project.


“$12 million for a half-mile bypass is way too much,” Kendall said, “given that we already have a bypass that works. The checkpoints are no worse than going through a New Jersey bypass. I’ve gone through hundred of times,” he commented.


He also pointed out that a lot of nice signs that would alert traffic to the checkpoints could be purchased with $12 million. “I don’t understand why we have to build $12 million worth of road,” he continued.


Councilor Sharon Stover was one of the attendees on the tour Sunday. In fact, she, along with Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman, George Lawrence, Gregg Kendall, executive director of Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corp. Kevin Holsapple and county staff organized the public tour.


Stover was pleased with the turnout and said that it’s good that people showed up because “you get a different perspective when you walk the trail.”


She said she’s heard a lot of residents voice concern over cost, accessibility, signage and habitat issues. “It was a good turnout for a Sunday,” Stover said. “It’s good for people to get together and talk.” Zimmerman was also pleased with the turnout. “We had a lot of good questions. People who went on it seemed to have enjoyed the tour,” he said.


Holsapple said that LACDC is very interested in the West Jemez Bypass. “Our board has really looked at this. Safe, open access between the community and points west is really important to us,” he said.


He also commented that the route the county chooses is more of a technical problem. “You either trust the county to do a good job of evaluating options or you don’t. They really need to work on that,” Holsapple said.


He also said that visitors from Bandelier have been unwilling to navigate through LANL’s security checkpoint, which creates a disincentive for prospective Los Alamos visitors.


“There can be better signage, but that won’t solve the problem like an open route will. Safe, open access will improve lab security, as well,” he commented. “It will give the lab better options for security.”


Construction for the bypass is scheduled to begin by July 8, 2009, which a projected completion date set sometime in December 2010. To read more about the bypass project and what area residents think, log onto Kendall’s blog at http://stoptheredundantbypass.blogspot.com/