Let’s hit pause button on the loop road at Jefferson Middle

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The June 21 story about Albuquerque Public Schools’ loop road project at Jefferson Middle School gave Journal readers an overview of the controversy. Today troubling new community safety concerns are being raised about this ill-conceived plan.

Prior to May, hardly anyone outside the APS bureaucracy and a few parents knew about the plan to build this two-lane, 24-foot wide road around the perimeter of Jefferson connecting Girard to Lomas. APS didn’t inform impacted residents in the surrounding area. It didn’t inform appropriate city officials about a decision to fast-track the construction date from 2015 to this summer.

As a result, the community only got an 11th hour opportunity to review the plan. Neighbors weren’t the only ones to begin scrutinizing it. Top architectural design experts at the University of New Mexico and interested individuals with hands-on school safety experience in other districts took a hard look.

The reviews haven’t been good. Serious safety and environmental concerns have come to light and were brought to APS’s attention.

Unfortunately, APS officials seem to be disregarding these warnings and doubling-down on old talking points. For APS, the student drop-off and pick-up problem is the only issue. Excluding inconvenient considerations – and stakeholders – makes it easier to justify the preconceived loop-road solution.

The APS scheme will take hundreds of cars from Girard, and loop them around the athletic field to exit onto Lomas. Those are vehicles spewing noise and pollution, passing directly by an area where children play and pedestrians travel daily.

Lomas is a major arterial feeding traffic to UNM, UNM Hospital, the law school, Nob Hill, downtown and the interstate.

How can it be that no one envisioned the mammoth traffic problem that would ensue when hundreds of cars pour out onto Lomas during the rush hours in the morning and afternoon?

Cars braving the left turn across three lanes of Lomas’ rush-hour traffic are a recipe for disaster. However, if left turns are prohibited, eastbound parents will be queuing up on Lomas for dangerous U-turns – or detouring in droves through neighborhoods to the south.

Four new pedestrian/vehicle conflict points will be added – danger zones where students and pedestrians must cross the loop to access the school. … Plus, it will mean an open campus where anyone can access students, residents and faculty.

By its own admission, APS conducted no traffic, safety or environmental studies related to the road. Amazingly, it failed to factor in the city’s existing Girard Boulevard Complete Street Master Plan – a plan developed with neighborhood input, which actually addresses the drop-off, pick-up problem.

APS can’t even confirm how many cars will use this road on a daily basis; thus there’s no data to substantiate claims that the road will increase safety….

APS is the nation’s 25th largest school district. Perhaps this “curse of bigness” explains why it seems to act with such imperiousness. Its special status exempts it from planning and permitting processes that residents and businesses must follow when doing construction. It’s a bureaucracy playing by its own rules.

Hit the pause button, APS. Conduct a full traffic management impact study when school is in session. Constructive win-win solutions will result from engaging the community in a timely, transparent and data-driven design process that actually addresses significant concerns rather than ignoring them.