After years of being on a shelf, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) officials have blown the dust off the idea of having a connecting road from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.
During a presentation Tuesday night to Los Alamos County Council, Triad National Security Deputy Director of Operations Kelly Beierschmitt explained the idea cropped back up on the laboratory’s radar while LANL Director Thom Mason met with laboratory craft and maintenance workers.
A worker commented that he drives an hour and a half to and from work and asked if the laboratory could revisit the old idea of having a connecting road to cut down on the commute time.
Beierschmitt said the suggestion caught on.
“One of my staff (members) said we actually worked on this while at with the New Mexico Department of Transportation … and why don’t we dust off those plans and put that conversation in front of the community as part of our master site planning,” he said.
The details of where this connecting road would begin and end between Albuquerque and Santa Fe are not currently known; Beierschmitt showed Council what he described as a “notional” image, which featured three optional routes.
Beierschmitt emphasized that the laboratory is not in the road construction business.
“The laboratory … we don’t build roads; that is not our business. I’ve got no authority to do that,” he said. “Anything that gets built, bridges, roads or a connector of any variety is in the space of the state, federal and local government. That’s where decisions get made.”
However, laboratory officials have been discussing the idea with County officials as well as representatives of neighboring municipalities and surrounding Pueblos.
The idea is being explored to address the laboratory’s transportation issues. With 1,000 full-time employees expected to be hired at the laboratory as well as the expected 500-600 current employees who retire in the coming years but choose to stay in Los Alamos, traffic congestion is only going to get worse, Beierschmitt said.
He explained that if newly hired LANL employees can’t find a place to live in Los Alamos, then they will commute.
“I am hiring 1,000 … where are they going to stay; where are they going to live? That’s going to put pressure on our transportation system,” Beierschmitt said.
The connector road is not the only potential major change to the laboratory and the surrounding area, Beierschmitt said.
He said, at some point access to LANL’s main campus may need to be restricted. To do that, Beierschmitt said three things will need to be done:
- Move the central shipping and receiving;
- Relocate pass and badge outside vehicle portals; and
- Create a bypass route to accommodate the citizens and tourists heading to Jemez Springs, the Pajarito Ski Hill, etc.
Additionally, Beierschmitt said the Omega Bridge is passed its design life. At some point, he said, the bridge will have to be removed and replaced.
Another issue is the 45 acres that is leased to Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation (LACDC). One facility is currently built on the property. Beierschmitt said the laboratory is working with the LACDC to use this prime real estate to its full effect; whether that is through operating leases or purchases.
Furthermore, two new parking garages will be constructed. He said ground will be broken on them in August.
With all these issues, Beierschmitt said the public’s input is welcome.
“Our doors are open;” he said, “If Los Alamos can help the communities where my staff live and work – that is great.”
Councilor David Izraelevitz said he felt when it came to the laboratory’s transportation issue, everything should be brought to the table to determine what works and what doesn’t. In the short term, he asked if the laboratory was considering options such as express buses or encouraging people to carpool.
Nothing is off the table, Beierschmitt said. He added that while people can’t be forced to use Park and Ride services, the laboratory can encourage people to take public transit and make it more convenient. Carpools also are set up, he said.
Councilor Antonio Maggiore asked about the laboratory’s transparency; he wondered why it took so long for the laboratory to present its transportation plans to Council.
It seemed like the public was an afterthought, Maggiore said.
Beierschmitt said LANL officials are more than willing to speak to the public.
“I do believe community engagement is vital … we continue to be open, transparent,” he said, adding that if communication issues do appear, it is not because of malicious intent.
Beierschmitt also said that he has met with County Manager Harry Burgess and his team and relies on the County to determine when there needs to be engagement with the public.
Council Chair Sara Scott also addressed public engagement. She wondered how the Lab plans to involve the public.
“Given that things are going to evolve … you mention to get new ideas, to get out of box ideas I am wondering how we do that … (we) make sure the community is aware of some of the considerations (and) that we understand from the community other considerations that we may not be aware of and that we get good ideas on how to solve these challenges together …,” Scott said.
Beierschmitt explained that he and his team will continue to meet with the County Manager and his team. If it is decided more public engagement is needed, then the Lab will certainly do that.
“Constant dialogue, I think, is absolutely vital when we develop our master site plan, I am inviting the County to participate; I’ve invited N3B to participate …,” Beierschmitt said.