Letter to the Editor: Frustrated With Transportation-Related Issues

R. Wayne Hardie
Los Alamos
I have lived in Los Alamos County (LAC) for 34 years and just completed a term as a member of LAC’s Transportation Board, so I have considerable interest in, and considerable frustration with, LAC transportation-related issues.
In my opinion, the current kerfuffle over the “N.M. 502-Trinity Drive Transportation Improvement Project” is the result of yet the latest in a long list of mismanaged LAC road and street projects over the past several years as summarized below:
1. Diamond Drive: LAC/Public Works proposed a multi-roundabout (RDB) design for Diamond Drive, including one at the top of a steep hill (Conoco Hill). After considerable opposition from LAC citizens showing that such a design wouldn’t handle the traffic loads, LAC finally consented to build the current no-RDB Diamond Drive design.
2. 47th Street in the Western Area: LAC/Public Works proposed two RDBs for 47th–one at Sandia and one at Trinity. These proposed RDBs were killed as a result of a 90% citizen petition to the LAC Council.
3. SR4 in White Rock: LAC/Public Works proposed a RDB design for the portion of SR4 in White Rock. DOE stepped in and overruled LAC and so, thankfully, the design was changed to eliminate the RDBs.
4. Trinity Drive (starting at Diamond Drive and going east): LAC/Public Works proposed a two-lane design (one in each way) with single-lane RDBs at almost every intersection on Trinity Drive! There was considerable opposition by the citizens of LAC. These citizens showed that LAC’s consultants (MIG) were wrong in their calculations about whether or not this design could handle the traffic loads. So, LAC hired another consultant to shut up the citizens, and guess what–the citizens were right and MIG was wrong. So, this incredibly crazy design was dropped, at least for now.
5. Canyon Road: LAC/Public Works proposed a design with a RDB at Canyon and 15th Street. Luckily, the estimated cost ($500,000) was so high that they dropped the idea.
6. NM502-Trinity Drive (Knecht Street east to Tewa Loop): NMDOT initially proposed a four-lane design (two in each way) with a stop light at NM502/Central Avenue. LAC/Public Works came up with a counter proposal–two lanes (one in each way) with a RDB at Central/NM502. A group of LAC citizens pointed out that LAC/Public Works’ design wouldn’t handle the traffic load. Ignoring these citizens, LAC approved the design. Fortunately, NMDOT agreed with the citizens and changed the design back to four lanes, but left the RDB in.

So, what most LAC/Public Works’ proposed road projects have in common are (1) roundabouts and (2) two-lane roads. There is a very small, but very vocal, group in LAC who support these objectives. They continue to perpetuate the myth that RDBs are safer and more convenient for bicyclists and pedestrians. Rather than viewing streets and roads as a way to move traffic, they propose turning these streets and roads into obstacle courses for “traffic calming.”

I believe that most LAC citizens do not agree with these objectives. The problem is that they are growing weary of having to spend so much time convincing LAC that these designs do not meet the needs of the citizens nor NMDOT’s requirements.
          With respect to the latest N.M. 502-Trinity Drive design:
  • Most of the design is now two lanes in each direction, but would be further improved if the west-bound section from the Hilltop House is two lanes.
  • The original NMDOT design having a stop-light at Central/N.M. 502 is much preferable to the RDB. The proposed RDB will be inconvenient for motorists and a safety hazard for bicyclists and pedestrians. A few years ago a truck overturned at the Diamond Drive/San Ildefonso RDB, closing the road to traffic to and from Barranca Mesa for hours. While this was inconvenient, it wasn’t a tragedy–but imagine if something similar would happen, particular during an emergency, on NM502–the major road leading in and out of Los Alamos? Furthermore, a RDB at this location will destroy what is probably the nicest landscaping in all of LAC.
  • The proposed new road connecting Canyon with N.M. 502 is unnecessary, inconvenient, and expensive. The purpose, according to LAC/Public Works, is so vehicles will maintain their lane when exiting onto Canyon from N.M. 502. A much cheaper option is to simply place a median on Canyon close to N.M. 502. Another disadvantage of the proposed new road is that headlights will be shining directly into some of the houses on Canyon. 

Many motorists using the roadway during the rush hours are from other parts of the state and they deserve to have a road that benefits them as they come to work in Los Alamos.

Yet their interests have not been taken into account by LAC/Public Works. Since the name of the project is “N.M. 502-Trinity Drive Transportation Improvement Project,”

it is important that spending all of this money actually results in an improved roadway. Otherwise, leave it the way it is and use the funds for something else.