The debate, two minutes at a time, went deep into the night.
North Valley residents – some waiting as late as 10 – took turns addressing the City Council on Monday to share their opinions on plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Rio Grande and Candelaria.
Testimony was divided, though opponents carried signs and turned out in larger numbers. The last speaker, a cyclist, drew laughs when he explained he didn’t want to die in a roundabout.
In the end, opponents and supporters alike went home without a clear answer on whether the roundabout will ever be built. The council voted 6-3 to hire an engineering company to update its evaluation of the intersection and report back by July 31.
The resolution that was adopted was sponsored Councilor Isaac Benton, though it was Roxanna Meyers who suggested the idea of updating the intersection evaluation through an amendment, which was approved.
They’d originally had competing bills, but both Benton and Meyers supported the final resolution.
“There’s clearly a divide that needs to be at least partially healed before a decision is made” on a roundabout, Benton said. “I think this is the proper and prudent thing to do right now.”
Meyers said she didn’t believe her own bill – calling for the city to abandon plans for a roundabout – would win support, so she offered the compromise with Benton. She said she believes an updated evaluation will support halting the project.
The roundabout seemed to be an “agenda shoved down a lot of people’s throats,” Meyers said.
In favor of the amended resolution were Benton, Meyers, Dan Lewis, Ken Sanchez, Rey Garduño and Don Harris.
Councilors Brad Winter, Trudy Jones and Michael Cook voted “no.”
Winter said it appeared that a majority of residents simply don’t want the roundabout, and Cook said traffic statistics suggest the intersection is safer than it used to be.
“To me,” he said, “it doesn’t appear the roundabout is needed any longer.”
The vote came after a lengthy debate. Each public speaker had about two minutes to address the council, and around 50 people signed up to speak.
Many had blunt, passionate opinions about whether the roundabout would make the intersection safer or just disrupt traffic.
“There is nothing dangerous about that intersection,” said Neil Colella, who said opposes building a roundabout. “It’s just normal.”
Jean Van Dusen, on the other hand, described waiting at the light when two cars blew through the intersection.
“They just barreled through the red light,” she said. “I thought the roundabout could have prevented that.”
The council had two bills to choose from Monday – one from Meyers, who opposes it, and the other from Benton, who said more discussion was needed.
The roundabout has been in the works for years. In 2009, the City Council applied for and won about $1 million in federal funding for the project, through the state government. The city was going to chip in about $500,000 of its own money, too.
That was with the support of then-Councilor Debbie O’Malley, who represented the area. But she left the council last year after winning election to the County Commission.
Mayor Richard Berry appointed Meyers to replace her. Meyers conducted an online poll, which showed opposition, and announced earlier this year that she would put a stop to the roundabout.
Meyers argues that statistics on the severity of crashes at the intersection suggest the roundabout isn’t justified and, furthermore, residents don’t want one.
Benton said experts had already reviewed the data when approving the city application and that the city stands to lose federal funds if it backs out now.
Under questioning from the council, Michael Riordan, Albuquerque’s director of municipal development, said a roundabout would probably improve safety at the intersection because it slows down traffic. On the other hand, other improvements at the intersection could probably improve safety, too, while leaving it with a traffic light, he said.
Riordan also said the intersection’s crash-severity rate is ordinary for Albuquerque and has improved in recent years, perhaps due to re-striping and other improvements.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal