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Views On St. Francis Project Mixed

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe’s Public Works Committee was unable to reach a consensus Monday on how best to move forward with a pedestrian and bicycle crossing linking St. Francis Drive to the Santa Fe Railyard.

Committee members voted to move the matter forward to the City Council with no recommendation.

A lengthy public hearing drew 20 speakers, with opinion about evenly split on options to build an underpass/tunnel or bridge.

However, nearly half the speakers said they don’t want anything built at the intersection, or said the city needs to do more planning before choosing a design.

“I’d rather see us investing money into making 30 intersections better rather than that one intersection that will always be a mess,” Dan Baker said.

The safety of an underpass or tunnel was a concern for many of those who favored the bridge option. Several people said a tunnel might attract a dangerous element.

Ron Ortiz Dinkel of the nearby New Mexico School for the Deaf said school officials strongly prefer the bridge option. Renette Finley, who described herself as an “elderly” bicyclist, said she wouldn’t “dream of riding through a long tunnel at that intersection.”

“It’s a very wide intersection and it would have to be a real tunnel, not just an underpass. I think there would be a real problem with vagrants and people just looking to cause trouble,” she said.

Other speakers said an underpass could be designed to minimize crime and other potential problems. Architect Suby Bowden questioned if people would actually avoid a bridge, noting the extra work it takes to walk up to an overpass.

The crossing would connect the Acequia Trail on the west side of St. Francis with the Railyard. The city has done preliminary work on the project for almost a decade and previously gathered public input on the project in 2009.

An environmental assessment signed off on by both the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration has found no significant problem with either a bridge or underpass.

Public Works members on Monday offered varying opinions on what they’d like to see at the intersection, though neither option seemed to generate overt enthusiasm. Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger said several issues, like safety, haven’t been as thoroughly vetted as the primary project focus of trail connectivity.

Many in the community, especially bicyclists, say they want some sort of safe crossing at the St. Francis/Cerrillos intersection. The city’s Bicycle and Trail Advisory Committee recently voted to recommend Santa Fe pursue an underpass or tunnel at the crossing. Former Councilor Miguel Chavez, who left the council when his term expired in March, said at a meeting on the issue in May that an underpass would be “an investment we can make in the future.”

It’s unclear when the City Council will review the matter.

However, there may be no real urgency on the city’s part. Santa Fe currently only has about $553,000 in project’s pot, about enough to finish design work. Federal or state funding will probably be necessary to start construction. Both the underpass and bridge have estimated costs of about $3 million to $3.5 million.

And while the city must chose either the bridge or underpass option to formally complete the environmental assessment process, project consultants said city officials do have about three years before that decision must be made.