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The last major hurdle to Smith’s/Kroger moving forward with plans to build a Smith’s Marketplace and develop the Trinity Site rests with the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
Smith’s proposal calls for a signalized entrance between Trinity Site and the Mari-Mac Shopping Center, a right in/right out entrance to the west of that and an another right in/right out entrance for delivery trucks and the drive-through pharmacy to the east.
According to NMDOT’s control manual, the intersections are too close together. Smith’s has requested a variance, which must be approved for the design to move forward.
“In order to get the requested number of entrances to the site they had to request a variance because their design does not conform with the strict interpretation of NMDOT requirements for a state highway,” County Administrator Harry Burgess said. “Neither does the existing property out there, because there’s some requirement for no more than one entrance every 350 feet. If you go along Trinity Drive and measure today, we wouldn’t meet that requirement in a number of scenarios.”
Public Works Director Philo Shelton noted that code manual standards are geared toward undeveloped land and roadways with higher speeds, such as the development along Santa Fe’s Cerrillos Road in recent years. Shelton said that since the standards don’t take into consideration older town sites with limited property line fronting, some compromise is necessary.
Shelton reported that Smith’s has extended their contract for the 30-day option to work with the state on the access. The state, the county and Smith’s have been in conversation about the variance. The most recent meeting took place a week and a half ago.
“Kyle has reported is that we’ve worked out the issues, and now it’s a matter of details that we have to address,” said Shelton, after Engineering and Surveying Division Manager Kyle Zimmerman had explained the proposed design to the Transportation Board. “Smith’s hasn’t signed the dotted line 100 percent yet, but I think we have crossed a major hurdle with the State with this drawing. Smith’s and the county left very happy with the outcome.
“So I don’t think that will be an issue. Now it’s more technicalities: the calculations to support the timing plan, if the length of the median is enough or needs to be extended, spacing between sites: all this data they want to support the design. But the concept–it’s a supportable project.”
NMDOT has requested more information on the traffic study conducted at the site and the length of the turn lanes to assure they are long enough to prevent queuing. They’ve also asked the county to include a sign for westbound traffic warning of a signal ahead and a plan for coordinating traffic signals along the corridor. County engineers are working on those requests now.
Everyone from Zimmerman to Smith’s Vice President of Corporate Development Steven Sorenson are optimistic about approval of the variance.
“I think it will be approved as long as we can show that we have good coordination through there,” Zimmerman said. “Miguel (District Five Engineer Miguel Gabaldon) sounded like he was pretty favorable to it. Miguel is very open and willing to work with us. He has things he has to do, just as when I’m applying code I have to work through issues.”
“We’re working through the process,” Sorenson said. “NMDOT is working on it with us, the city staff, the traffic people, the engineers are all working on it. I think we’ve all about agreed how things are going to be done, and the engineers are working through the details right now to make sure the everything goes along with traffic studies and things of that nature.
“So I’m confident that it will all come together and work and we’ll be fine and ready to get going on this property.”
Shelton noted that Gabaldon —who makes the final decision on the plan —liked certain aspects such as consolidating the two entrances at Mari-Mac into one signalized intersection. The current design poses safety issues due to limited sight lines.
“So there’s a lot of give and take, and improved safety in access and sight distance meant a lot to the state,” Shelton said.
If the variance is not approved the entire project could fall through.
“We need what we’ve asked for in some form or another,” Sorenson said. “If NMDOT doesn’t allow what we’ve asked for, we’ll be back to the drawing board to see if we can figure out something else that will work. If we can’t have the accesses that we need, the commercial project doesn’t work.”
Despite the risk, everyone contacted appeared to be optimistic.
“I hope this will be resolved in the next month or so,” Sorenson said. “We hope to be under construction this summer.”
Public Works is also proceeding with its planning process.
Staff is currently preparing a memorandum of understanding that would allow the county’s contribution to the N.M. 502 project to be invested this year. That would allow underground utilities and drainage to be installed while Smith’s builds it access points rather than tearing up the street after the new shopping center is open.
“We’re hopeful that it will work,” Sorenson said. “Everybody’s trying to work together to make it work. There’s no adversarial position in this.”