Letter To The Editor: Endless Roundabouts!

Los Alamos
Over the past few weeks there have been several excellent letters about the proposed N.M. 502 roundabout in front of the Hilltop House at Central and Trinity. 
I was on the Transportation Board when this concept was first proposed in 2012, and I didn’t like it then. I am just completing another term on the Transportation Board. The 90 percent design plan was presented by NMDOT at our March 2016 meeting, and I still don’t like it. These comments, of course, are mine alone and I am only speaking for myself, not the Transportation Board.
As background, I am not necessarily for or against roundabouts but it seems like every major proposed road and street project in Los Alamos County over the past several years has included roundabouts, whether they make sense or not. 
Examples of proposed roundabouts include:
  • Diamond Drive (from San Ildefonso to Trinity);
  • 47th Street in the Western Area;
  • N.M. 4 in White Rock;
  • Canyon Road at 15 Street;
  • N.M. 502 at Tewa; and
  • Trinity Drive (from Diamond to Knecht). 
Thankfully, because of cost, technical considerations, or citizen opposition, none of these roundabouts were actually built (it took a massive effort by several Los Alamos County citizens to finally scuttle the ill-conceived, multi-roundabout plan for Trinity Drive from Diamond to Knecht Street).
Rather than rehash the excellent points made by the recent letters regarding the proposed roundabout in front of the Hilltop House, I would like to bring up some other negatives to this design.
  • What is the problem that this roundabout is trying to fix? I don’t see that there is anything wrong with the current Central-Trinity intersection, and the proposed roundabout will almost certainly make things worse. Usually, a change will make things better for some (either drivers, bicyclists, and/or pedestrians), and perhaps worse for others, but this roundabout is notable because it will make things worse for all—except perhaps auto body repair shops. While the options for this intersection are usually presented as a choice between a roundabout or a traffic signal, I think a better, and much cheaper, option is to just leave it alone. If N.M. 502 were expanded to two west-bound lanes as proposed, the right lane could go down Central and the left lane could go down Trinity.
  • In 2012, this project was estimated to cost $3.8 million, but we were told on March 3 that the current estimate is $8 million—an increase of over a factor of two! Certainly, the roundabout is a significant reason for such a huge cost.
  • The NMDOT representative stated that he had met with several citizens regarding right-of-way issues, and one thing came through loud and clear: save the trees! Well, the proposed roundabout will wipe out all of the trees in the very nicely landscaped triangular area between Central and Trinity. Yes, they will landscape the roundabout, but the replacement trees will be much smaller and by the time they are mature the County will probably decide the roundabout is a failure and tear it out, along with the trees, and replace it with something else.
In addition to the roundabout, there is another aspect to the proposed design that doesn’t make sense to me, and that is the proposed intersection with N.M. 502 and Canyon. Once again, the design is complicated, expensive, and “fixes” something that isn’t broken. The proposed design makes a 90 degree turn off of N.M. 502 to Canyon, which cuts through the green area currently owned by the Los Alamos Public Schools. And, speaking of saving trees, say goodbye to at least one of those beautiful stately Cottonwood trees in that green area.
While it may be late in the design process to modify the design, it is a lot easier and cheaper to do it now than to fix it after construction is completed!