DOT releases $1.2 million for bypass

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By Roger Snodgrass

The Department of Transportation has released $1.214 million for the West Jemez Road Bypass project in Los Alamos.

The department notified Sen. Jeff Bingaman Friday that money he had requested for this year’s budget was now available for building a road around security checkpoints in the area.

“The construction of the West Jemez Bypass road will make it easier for residents to get around without having to deal with new security measures associated with Los Alamos National Laboratory,” Bingaman said in a press release.

Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro welcomed the assurance of an additional federal contribution to the road project.

“The senator deserves a lot of gratitude for his efforts here,” he said Friday.

The notice arrives just as the county prepares to revisit the question of how to proceed with its share of the bypass project, connecting the Omega (Los Alamos Canyon) Bridge to the new Ski Hill Road.

After reaching a 90-percent design phase for a bypass plan, Los Alamos County Council decided to look at other alternatives last December.

“We now have gone through that analysis,” said Mortillaro, “and we have a bunch of costs to present to the transportation board and council for each.”

The new plans, including two new intersection designs, will go before the transportation board meeting Thursday.

The road project has been a headache for the county since the Department of Energy beefed up security at the laboratory after 9/11. Under periods of strict security conditions, the West Jemez Road exit and access to the townsite could be impeded.

The county sued DOE and a settlement was reached by which the department agreed to pay for a part of a bypass road, but the county was left with the rest, a project estimated at $12 million at the time.

Gov. Bill Richardson said the state would provide half of that expense, but the legislature has only approved $2 million so far.

“When you add the intersection, you’re looking at closer to $14.5-15 million,” Mortillaro said.

Mortillaro said he was part of a county delegation that went to Washington last year.

During a meeting in Bingaman’s office, funds were identified in DOT specifically intended for roads on DOE property or federal lands.

Although the application for that grant was unsuccessful, Bingaman earmarked the funds that have now become available in the budget.