NMDOT OKs Trinity Drive roundabout

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Infrastructure > Construction expected to begin in 2014

By Arin McKenna

The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) announced this week that it is ready to move forward with a revised proposed alternative for N.M.502/Trinity Drive between Knecht Street and Arroyo Lane. The plan includes a roundabout at the intersection with Central Avenue.

According to a NMDOT’s press release, “a roundabout will improve traffic flow and safety at this intersection.” Another factor in the department’s decision was that the majority of public comment supported the roundabout alternative.

Los Alamos County Public Works Director Philo Shelton took issue with one statement in the NMDOT press release, which reads, “Under the revised proposed alternative, N.M. 502/Trinity Drive will be converted to two eastbound lanes along the entire corridor with currently planned construction of these two lanes ending just east of Arroyo Lane.”

“This may lead some people to believe the entire corridor will be converted to two lanes. We do not have enough funding to do the entire corridor,” Shelton said. “The eastbound corridor will be converted to two lanes between Knecht and Arroyo Lane. The road will narrow to one lane just east of Arroyo Lane.”

The proposed alternative also includes two westbound lanes from Tewa Loop to Central Avenue and D.P. Road to Knecht Street.

The project is slated to receive $3.8 million from the New Mexico Department of Transportation District 5 State Transportation Improvement Program in FY2014. The county’s match of $1.125 million is allocated from the Capital Improvement Program.

Other improvements include two pedestrian crossings with HAWK (High Intensity Activated Crosswalk) beacons located between Canyon Road and Tewa Loop.

The HAWK signals improve pedestrian safety by unitizing red and yellow lights for drivers and countdown signals for those crossing. Sidewalks, meanwhile, will be upgraded and new sidewalks will be built where there are none.

Shelton also is pleased with less visible improvements to the infrastructure, such as replacing the 30-inch drainage pipe for runoff with a 60-inch pipe.

“This is obviously a good safety improvement, especially during the monsoon season,” Shelton said.

The proposed alternative was arrived at after much public debate and is likely to have critics on all sides.

Many Los Alamos residents fought to keep this stretch of road one lane in order to reduce noise levels for surrounding neighborhoods and improve pedestrian safety. NMDOT and Federal Highway Administration (FHA) rejected that proposal on the grounds that it would not meet minimum Level of Service (LOS) for the Arroyo Lane and Sombrillo Court side streets, creating a safety hazard.

Some residents objected to the roundabout at Central Avenue. Others advocated for an additional roundabout at the new intersection for the Trinity Site development.

That proposal was rejected due to insufficient right-of-way to build a roundabout at that location.

Residents had also advocated for a multimodal design, which included bicycle lanes. Although the design includes a widened shoulder running east from Central Avenue, there is not enough right of way to include bike lanes, especially west of the Central intersection. The extension of the Canyon Rim Trail to the Trinity Site in 2014 may provide an alternative route for cyclists, but Shelton does not believe that will satisfy those who commute via bicycle.

NMDOT District Five Technical Support Engineer David Quintana, who is in charge of the project, is well aware of the various points of view.

“I think it will work fine,” Quintana said. “We’re not going to make everyone happy, but that’s impossible. We got the best compromise we could get.”

NMDOT is waiting for the FHA to sign off on the Environmental Impact Statement. Once that is done, NMDOT will prepare a “finding of no significant impact (FOSI),” which the FHA must also sign off on. Quintana expects that process to be completed by the end of May.

Once the FOSI is completed, final design work begins. The project should be ready for bid by the summer of 2014.

Construction is expected to take nine to 12 months, with an anticipated completion in 2015.

“It has been a long road and a lot of time to get some of these improvements made,” Shelton said. “The road needs a lot of improvements. I’m glad to see this moving forward.”