Burgess: Safety And State Road 4

Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess. Courtesy photo
County Manager

I would like to take this opportunity to address safety concerns we have heard recently from the public regarding the intersection of State Road 4 (SR4) and the Truck Route.

Over the last few months four serious motor vehicle accidents involving residents have occurred. These accidents typically involved a westbound turn by a motorist from SR4 onto the Truck Route at this signalized intersection. I think we all agree that the situation is dangerous and accidents can happen for a variety of reasons. Clearly this intersection backs up in all directions during peak commute times, and this factor played a part in recent accidents.

There is personal responsibility on the part of all drivers to be attentive and aware of traffic entering any busy intersection. But there is a role for government with respect to road design as well. 

Roadway improvements to the intersection cannot prevent all accidents, but they can help reduce them. There are, however, a number of government entities that share oversight at SR4 and the Truck Route. New Mexico’s Department of Transportation (NMDOT) owns and maintains SR4, Santa Fe County maintains the traffic signal and related equipment, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) owns and operates the Truck Route. Los Alamos County Traffic & Streets Division and the Police Department (LAPD) provide emergency services at the intersection when needed. Addressing the larger safety issues involves coordinating and working with all of these partners.

Given the number of entities involved, the County alone is not able to provide an immediate and direct “fix” to the problem, yet over the past year we have lobbied the NMDOT and DOE to prioritize improvements specifically for this area using the Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) dollars from the DOE. These funds were part of a settlement agreement between the state and DOE following the 2014 accidents at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad. Pursuant to this agreement, Los Alamos County has a seat at the table in prioritizing SEP road improvements locally, to include the SR4/Truck Route intersection, and we have consistently maintained this project as our highest priority.

In the short term, our County Traffic Engineer has worked with the DOE and NMDOT to make signal timing adjustments including advance vehicle detection for northbound traffic, an action intended to provide more green time for vehicles in the queue to clear the intersection. We continue to work with LAPD on traffic enforcement at the signal for those who are pushing the envelope to speed past the yellow-turning-red light issue common at any intersection.

We are asking the community to help us, too. If you are driving this stretch of road, pay attention and don’t text or drive, or allow yourself to be distracted when you are near this intersection. If you are the parent of a young driver, emphasize the importance of paying attention and being cautious at this particular intersection when they are driving. Together, we can try our best in the short term to prevent future accidents from happening.

My pledge is to keep the community updated on the design work for the improved roadway and intersection as we learn more from the state and DOE in 2017. If you have additional observations to share, please send them to our Public Works office by email at lacpw@lacnm.us or call them at 505.662.8150.