First phase of NM 502 project set to start

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By Tris DeRoma

Officials from the New Mexico Department of Transportation Wednesday laid out the timeline of the first phase a massive redesign of NM 502 from Tewa Loop to Knecht Street, could start as soon as today.

The first phase will consist of consolidating various utility hubs along Trinity Drive into one main corridor, installing street lighting and taking out the safety islands along the route, and replacing the islands with paving.  Star Paving calls this phase “1A.”

The contractor for the project, Star Paving, plans to start at Tewa Loop and work west toward Knecht Street.

According to the project’s manager, Dick Rowles, the paving, removal of the safety islands and the lighting upgrades will come first before the utility work.

“Our objective is to maintain orderly traffic operations… I know that it’s probably not going to be to your satisfaction but we’re going to do the best that we can do to get you through and have a safe project,” Rowles said at the meeting.

He said when the utility work begins, that’s when people are going to see traffic slowdowns.

“That phase, where we’re doing the crossing, is probably going to be the most disruptive to traffic. We will be avoiding, as much as we can the rush hours, but it’s really the only time we can do it, get it done and keep utilities in operation.

We have to get that completed before we can switch traffic and move into the next phase,” Rowles said.

Knowles said that phase of the project will take them until May or June.

Phase 1, which comes after Phase 1A he said, will start a little before the installation of utilities is complete.

Star Paving will start on the actual paving, which includes the installation of curves and sidewalks. That will continue until the winter break.

The entire project is expected to take two year. A large part of the project revolves around the installation of a traffic circle where Central Avenue, Canyon Road, 4th Street and Trinity Drive intersect near DP Road.

The project includes the realignment of 4th Street and Canyon Road to fit into the traffic circle. The project also includes a storm drainage duct along Trinity Drive.

Some residents in the meeting questioned why a traffic circle was needed in the first place.

Resident Greg White asked why a traffic circle was being built. He didn’t think there was any reason to justify it, since there have been no deaths due to car accidents at that particular section of Trinity Drive.

“What’s the purpose? It doesn’t seem to benefit anybody except Star Paving and your subcontractors. There’s no accident happening, there’s no problems with traffic flow, I guess I don’t understand why we need spending money on a roundabout when the real purpose of a roundabout is to prevent fatalities,” White said.

NMDOT Traffic Engineer Paul Brasher said studies of the intersection warranted a change.

“It consolidates those intersections into a smooth and continuous operation… this roundabout makes sense here,” Brasher said. “It cleans ups some of our complicated, non-90 degree intersections, it eliminates stopping movements … it stops the risk of rear end collisions for example. It also provides for a smoother transition into the south westbound lanes and the north eastbound lanes. It was studied, analyzed and it made sense here.”

NDOT officials also assured residents at the meeting that they plan on providing access points to each residence and business along Trinity Drive and Canyon Road.

“The way it’s set up in the plans is that there’s breaks for each driveway. So access to those businesses and residences will be provided along the way,” Souder Miller Senior Engineer Matthew Nighbert said.

As for the businesses on DP Road, Nighbert said they are going to do their best not to hinder access as construction works its way up to Knecht Street.  At the DP Road/Trinity Drive intersection, it will be setup so there will be two-lane traffic going westbound on Trinity Drive and one lane going eastbound.

Star Paving’s construction project manager Randy Payment said they are still working on traffic flow at DP Road, and they won’t know exactly how that will go until construction is underway.

“There’s a lot of stuff out here that I have to do yet to make all this work, and how I’m going to do it, I don’t know,” Payment said. “What’s out in the field and what’s in the plans are two different things. We just have to work through it and make it work.”

According to Brasher, the project is expected to cost $10.8 million.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation started studying the project and taking public input in 2005. 

The department offered the Los Alamos public other alternatives in an effort to “straighten” the intersection.

The public eventually chose a roundabout, or a traffic circle as a solution, Brasher said.