Letter to the Editor: County Has Reached Drop-Dead Point

By Joel M. Williams
Los Alamos
County Council members and administrators,
The county has finally reached the drop-dead point with regard to the redo of N.M. 502 from Knecht to Tewa Loop.
The hastily generated design created by PW (Public Works) in January was done without serious critiquing, endorsed by the Transportation Board under questionable circumstances, and approved quickly by the Council as it “needed to rush this through urgently to insure funding,” even as some of us indicated that it would not meet LOS.
This design has now been soundly rejected by state (NMDOT) and federal (FHWA) agencies based on LOS (Level of Service.) We are now finding that another design is to be presented to the Council for quick approval. Again, the Transportation Board has approved a design at its Dec. 6, 2012 meeting that was only made public at their meeting.
Council will be discussing this design on Dec. 11 in chambers. Again, as before, this design has not been through the scrutiny that Council insisted on last year for an acceptable design of this portion of N.M. 502 to insure that the circumstances that were encountered with the Trinity redo were not repeated.
I am sure that the new (county) administrator will be quite sensitive to minimizing these continued embarrassments to the Council.
Based on the County’s eventually rejected Trinity Roundabout design and now this latest rejection by agencies outside the control of the council, it seems that the Council would want to have input in addition to what its own administrative services proffer. To wit, none of us who were intimately involved in denouncing the Trinity Roundabout plan and the one approved in February 2012 were asked for input into this new design. Hence, the citizenry is faced again with a hastily created design generated by those who generated the previous failures. I got the impression at the TB meeting that even this new design has not yet received state and feds OK. If so, we have the cart before the horse again.
The county has bucked the state and federal agencies for five years and now these agencies have finally issued a drop-dead date. As that date is in February 2013, it is clear that something hastily will (must?) be done again; now with a certain, and short, deadline! In anticipation of your speedy approval of this new “phased” redo of N.M. 502, I have attached a 3-page pdf file that addresses my concerns and how they can be modified to at least make the work that will be authorized be consistent with what the state and federal agencies have harped upon: dual lanes in each direction with amenities that meet minimal LOS at peak traffic.
It is the continued attempt to devise schemes to get around this that has been the crux of the problem! The County was not satisfied with just the state’s concession of a roundabout that will slow traffic to 15 mph instead of the state’s preferred signal at Central Avenue and N.M. 502. They have been unwilling to provide the means for sufficient flow at such slow speeds; this requires dual lanes for capacity.
Staging (“phasing”) usually has the entire project laid out and then implemented in parts. The new design is devoid of a total design; or, is this new design the total that will be built? What would entice the agencies to release funds (partial or wholly) without a complete plan to improve the full road to minimally acceptable LOS levels?
Of course, unless the remainder of NM502 is redone, the road will still not meet LOS requirements for a state highway. As I understand it, the state has no plans to budget more monies for a road they have already allocated sufficient funds (five years ago) to bring up to snuff. I would assume that, if the road is to remain N.M. 502, they would release only a fraction of the budget.
The remaining redo must still be done in accordance with the LOS requirements the state has stipulated, but which the county has energetically fought. Under what written agreement(s) would the agencies partially fund?
Of course, if N.M. 502 becomes LA1 as part of getting the agencies to fully fund the “phased” portion, the county can then do as it pleases. We citizens, however, will be presented a perpetual bill for this highly used, inadequate road (east county line to LANL.)
That bill will be especially taxing if LANL’s gross receipt taxes greatly diminish or disappear altogether! Also, the County will have to lower its current LOS standards, which are incidentally LOS-D; same as the state’s!
Indeed, there is much intrigue associated with the simple approval of this new “phased” design by Council!
So, what are the county administrators and Council planning to do about this enigma in brokering a deal for the agencies’ monies? What are the long-term consequences to the citizenry?
Courtesy/Joel Williams

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