T-Board validates 90-percent design

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By Gabriel Vasquez

The Los Alamos Transportation Board voted in favor of the 90-percent design phase of the West Jemez Bypass Thursday, which will go before County Council as the board’s endorsement of the best route to take.

Looking at the design from an engineering and environmental standpoint, the board decided that if the project's goals are still valid, the current design should be finalized.

“It stays on the Research Park boundary, we don't have to go through the EPA process and we can get it built faster,” said public works director Kyle Zimmerman. Furthermore, “we have spent $1.5 million to date in consulting, so if we stop now, the county spent one-and-a-half million on it.”

The total cost of the project would be $12.26 million, not accounting for the spiking asphalt prices currently on the market.

“We received a letter saying July 1, the price (of asphalt) would be increased to $68 a ton,” Zimmerman said.

Last year, the county was paying $35 a ton, and just last month, the price increased to $53 a ton. Zimmerman attributed the almost 100-percent spike to transportation costs related and the general price of doing business in today's weaning economy.

He said there was no estimate yet as to how much the increase would bump up the $12 million figure currently proposed.

In light of increased public concern last year, County Council directed public works to investigate additional designs and cost information.

The alternatives that came from that investigation are as follows:

Southern Option ($14.99 million) – Runs parallel to, and very close to existing lab facilities, and requires a barrier be put up to prevent potential terrorist attacks. Cuts through land that could be commercially developed in the future. Projected completion in Fall 2010.

Gas Line Option ($23.25 million) – Would require the relocation of utility lines and uses a bridge to connect to West Road. Projected completion in Summer 2011.

Northern Option ($13.91 million) – Connects to West Road almost immediately from Diamond Drive, utilizing the existing road. Projected completion in Summer 2011.

If Council scraps the 90-percent design phase and the above options, county engineers also have options to expand the lanes on West Road to accommodate for increased traffic flow.

Zimmerman said increasing the traffic on the already-narrow West Road could cause potential safety concerns, increase noise and be a significant disturbance to residents that live near the fairway.

There is also a no-build option that would essentially nullify the project, but the county would have to eat the $1.5 million it has already spent.

“It seems like we're stuck between a rock and a hard place with these choices,” said board member Janie O'Rourke. “Nothing looks real good.”

Board chair Khalil Spencer questioned the original motives of the project, and asked if the goals set by the county were still valid since the project first came about two years ago.

Public comment was mixed, but mostly positive.

“We are in favor of any of the upper alternate routes,” said local homebuilder Stan Primak, “because the Research Park is planning a new building and there is also a another building planned by the lab. We look at that as a way for people to enter those facilities without having to go through the lab.”

Concerned residents commented that if there was ever a need for an emergency evacuation of the town site, the lab could close Omega Bridge or West Jemez Road at its discretion.

“West Jemez Road is on lab property,” said Michael Durosa. “If they choose to close it they can. The bridge and East Jemez all the way down is lab property.”

The board pointed out that if the bridge were to close, it would nullify the bypass.

A representative from LACDC said that economic impact studies related to the research park would be beneficial if an improved access road were to be built.

He said that for a limited amount of time the county was willing to have an easement built on West Road, but as the development of Research Park increased, that wouldn't always be an option.

“The access is not going to be there forever,” he said. “If you postpone it for two years you will not be able to come back and revisit it.”

Ken Gillespie, president of the LA Ski Club, said he was in favor of the 90-percent design.

“I've heard these arguments and when you look at the environmental impact and you look at the bottom of Los Alamos Canyon, that impact will be far greater than the impact on the 90-percent design. The longer we have people coming to a guard gate the longer they're going to be turned off and not come back.”

After weighing the public comment, the board unanimously decided that the 90-percent design plan would be the most feasible option.

“Having a clear shot past the laboratory is important because we don't know what the future holds,” Spencer said.

The board voted 5-to-0 to recommend the plan to Council, and amended that an economic impact study be done if the council considers it to be a significant issue regarding their ultimate decision to approve the project.