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Five new signals will jam traffic

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IF YOU THINK PASEO/UNSER IS LOGJAMMED NOW: Wait until the city adds five full-blown signalized intersections around it, in violation of the existing regional limited access corridor plans that are designed to move a lot of traffic.

The cost could be a lot more involved than just the $3 million-per-intersection price tag.

The five planned signals – three on Paseo del Norte and two on Unser at intersections that don’t exist yet – are apparently in the works to encourage retail/commercial development, i.e. jobs.

The city’s Planning Department is apparently asking the Mid-Region Council of Government’s Transportation Coordinating Committee to change the roads’ access policies to accommodate the proposed mixed-use Volcano Heights Sector Development Plan.

The changes would allow for signals approaching Paseo/Unser being spaced between 1,027 feet and 1,105 feet apart on Unser and between 1,186 feet and 1,518 feet on Paseo.

Currently full intersections on those roads must be spaced 1/2 mile apart – 2,640 feet.

That 1/2-mile spacing – which is also the policy on Coors – is in great part because the Albuquerque metro area has one of the lowest freeway miles per capita ratios compared to other metropolitan areas. Regional transportation studies done by MRCOG in the 1980s cited the lack of freeways as a problem regionwide and especially on the burgeoning West Side. So elected officials adopted access-control policies (signals only every 1/2 mile) for Paseo and Unser to turn them into “freeway-type facilities” to ease commutes.

As David Mitchell, director of Bernalillo County’s Maintenance and Operations, says, “imagine when driving eastward on Paseo del Norte having to stop for red lights at Eagle Ranch, Coors, Rio Grande Boulevard, Fourth Street, Second Street and Edith. The delay experienced by commuters, the increase in vehicle emissions and increased accident rates related to at-grade intersections would obviously be detrimental.”

So this Paseo/Unser signal proposal doesn’t square with action on Paseo to date.

Remember the drama after developer Jason Daskalos got a right-turn bay off Paseo east of Interstate 25? And what about the $93 million that will take Paseo over Jefferson and eliminate that signalized intersection for east-west drivers?

Traffic is only expected to increase on the corridors. Projections for 2035 anticipate 60,116 vehicles per day on Paseo in the Volcano Heights sector, 25,270 per day on Unser south of Paseo and 14,312 per day north of Paseo.

And they all may be stopping at red lights every thousand-or-so feet during rush hour because the signals are at irregular intervals, meaning traffic engineers can’t effectively synchronize them.

The Paseo/Unser signal proposal is expected to go before the MRCOG committee next month. Any decision can be appealed to the Metropolitan Transportation Board, which includes city and Village councilors and county commissioners.

Some have constituents who have to drive Paseo/Unser.

HOW MANY LEFTS ONTO N.M. 528/PAT D’ARCO? Jack Hertz emails “heading east on Westside Boulevard, how many left-turn lanes are there turning north onto N.M. 528? There are no overhead signs, and the markings on the pavement are confusing. I witnessed a near-miss there recently due to the confusion.”

Mark Motsko, who handles information for the city’s Department of Municipal Development, says “there are five lanes: two left, two right, a through and a bike lane. The two left lanes have surface arrows that are very large followed by the word ‘only’ in large letters.

“The only change to the intersection over the last five years was the removal of one through lane, and the establishment of two right lanes and a bicycle lane. That change was completed at the request of Rio Rancho, and they made the signal changes, then drew a sketch and city Traffic Engineering crews placed the pavement markings and striping.”

Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays and West Siders and Rio Ranchoans on Saturdays. Reach her at 823-3858; road@abqjournal.com; P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103; or go to ABQjournal.com/traffic to read previous columns and join in the conversation.

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