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How do we cross an arroyo?

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The major segment of Richards Avenue, starting south of the Santa Fe Community College, runs north as a major traffic carrier and now ends at the Arroyo de los Chamisos Urban Trail near the Genoveva Chavez Community Center. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Long ago, city planners had designs for a road that crossed Arroyo de los Chamisos and connected Cerrillos Road with Rodeo Road.

That’s why there are two, separate, segments of Richards Avenues in Santa Fe.

One runs east and north off Cerillos, but dead-ends on the north side of the arroyo near its intersection with Siringo Road. The other piece of Richards, starting from several miles to the south near Santa Fe Community College, runs across Rodeo and up against the south side of the arroyo.

But instead of crossing to link with its sister segment, this Richards bends abruptly to the east along the channel and goes behind the Rodeo de Santa Fe, Fire Station No. 7 and the Geneveva Chavez Community Center.

Two previous proposals to connect the two Richards avenues were sidetracked in the past due to opposition from residents of the Midcity area where the road would cross the arroyo, mostly concerned about increased traffic on streets in their neighborhoods. But 10 years after that last dalliance, city officials are flirting with the idea again.

“It’s the third bite at the apple,” said Mike Harris, the now former city councilor who revived the discussion before his term expired at the end of 2019.

It was a 2018 Harris-sponsored resolution that called for studying alternative crossings, as past efforts focused on a single route that cut across vacant land connecting both loose ends of Richards.

An initial report submitted last month is part of a nearly $250,000 study examining alternative routes across the arroyo that would “provide connection between Rodeo Road and Cerrillos Road to improve regional mobility and relieve congestion on existing streets located in the area.”

A 2010 Department of Transportation traffic study, conducted the last time a crossing was being considered, found that a Richards Avenue that crosses the arroyo would reduce traffic on Avenida de Las Campanas, Governor Miles, Camino Carlos Rey and Zia Road.

But it would also increase traffic on Richards, and other roads and streets in the area, depending on which of three alternative routes identified in Phase A of the study was selected.

“I just see this as being a disaster for our homeowners because of our location,” said Gary Reynolds. He recently served as president of the Vista del Prado Homeowners Association, made up of about 50 homes on the west side of Richards, and sandwiched between Sam’s Club and the rodeo grounds.

“We live in a quiet neighborhood and this will completely change the character of our neighborhood,” he said.

The city will host a meeting to provide a project update and collect input from the public on alternative crossings on Thursday, Jan. 16.

Three alternatives – only one of which would connect with the existing northern segment of Richards – have been developed. Another option is a “no-build” alternative, meaning things would remain status quo, with no road traversing the arroyo.

“We really want to get the word out about this because we feel it’s important to receive as much public input as we can,” said John Romero, the city’s traffic engineer. “There are definitely pros and cons, and we want to sort through those so we can come up with a recommendation to the City Council.”

Romero said a recommendation to the council likely won’t come until next fall or early winter.

Thursday’s meeting is part of that process and will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Higher Education Center, 1950 Siringo Rd.

‘Common sense solution’

Former councilor Harris is among those who believe a road crossing Arroyo de los Chamisos is needed. As it is, folks living on the north side of the arroyo have to take a round-about route to get to the Genoveva center or Sam’s Club, for instance.

The small northern segment of Richards Avenue runs off Cerrillos and ends near its intersection with Siringo Road. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“I think it would make a big difference in a positive way,” he said, adding that a crossing would improve connectivity for vehicle traffic, as well as bus and bicycle routes, especially for those headed to Santa Fe Community College. “It’s a common sense solution; it’s a logical solution,” Harris said.

Harris’ replacement as one of two councilors representing District 4, Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez, is remaining neutral until she gets more information.

“That’s why I think the study is the right first step to take a look and understand what the concerns are,” said Cassutt-Sanchez, who said she heard both sides of the argument when she canvassed neighborhoods during her campaign. “Gathering information, especially as a new councilor, is the best thing we can do to make an informed decision.”

She said she also planned to speak with Harris and City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, who also represents District 4, within which the entire area covered in the arroyo crossing study lies.

Vigil Coppler also says it’s important to take a measured approach.

“People who live in the area are concerned about traffic that goes through their neighborhood and using it as a cross street. I think that’s a valid concern,” she said. “But while it may be negatively impacting one neighborhood, it would be helping others.”

The city has already held one public meeting regarding the crossing, but that was mainly to explain the process the city was undertaking to arrive at a recommendation.

“Interestingly enough, I think most of the people in the room were not opposed to it,” she said of an arroyo crossing. “They had reservations about what would be done about it. But I think some of them have come to terms that this is probably something the city needs to do, even though it’s something they don’t like.”

‘The writing on the wall’

Susanne Lockford is one of those people. She, too, until recently was on the board of the Vista del Prado HOA.

Two options for connecting for two segments of Richards Avenue and providing a crossing over the Arroyo de los Chamisos would cross vacant property owned by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. (eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“I can see the writing on the wall,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of the people that aren’t affected will say, ‘Hell, yeah.’ But the few of us – and people in the Bellemah district on the other (north) side of the arroyo – can expect a lot more traffic, a lot more noise and a lot more pollution. But you also have to think about what’s for the greater good of Santa Fe.”

Lockford says she bought the second home in Vista del Prado 25 years ago. She knew then that Richards Road would one day be extended across the Arroyo de los Chamisos.

“I was concerned that one day this was going to happen. And this is that time,” she said.

Lockford says people already cut through their subdivision to avoid having to stop at the traffic light at Richards and Rodeo Road. A crossing will only increase traffic on the south part of Richards and consequently through their quiet neighborhood.

Now, after 25 years, “I’m thinking of selling my house,” she said, adding that she believes a crossing can only decrease the value of her home.

Lockford and fellow Vista del Prado homeowner Reynolds both said they would like to see speed humps, or even steeper, suspension-rattling speed bumps, constructed across the roads in their neighborhoods to calm traffic and discourage people from cutting through.

Like Lockford, Reynolds says the stop light at Richards and Rodeo encourages motorists to take alternative routes.

“That light, depending on the time of day, is extremely short to cross Rodeo,” Reynolds said. “People cut through in order to avoid it.”

Lockford and Reynolds have differing opinions about what a Richards Avenue exit off Interstate 25 – something that has also been considered before – might do to alleviate traffic near the proposed crossing.

Reynolds thinks it would help by providing an alternative way to reach SFCC and the Rancho Viejo subdivision via I-25 instead of having to use the south part of Richards.

Lockford doesn’t think it would have much of an effect, because there are still plenty of people just trying to get to and from Cerrillos Road to Rodeo Road and vice versa.

Traffic engineer Romero said that while the city could provide input on a Richards Avenue exit, it would really be up to the state Department of Transportation or the Federal Highway Commission, since interstate highways are federal roads.

Romero said he’s not aware of any consideration being given to a Richards exit at this time.

If one of the three crossing alternatives is recommended to the City Council, it may still be years away from happening.

Romero said the cost of the project is unknown and would depend on which, if any, of the alternatives was chosen.


OPTIONS TO ENHANCE CONNECTIVITY

C. Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal

The city of Santa Fe is considering options for a road that would cross Arroyo de los Chamisos to enhance connectivity between Cerrillos and Rodeo roads. A Phase A report published last month identifies four options, or alternatives as they are called in the report, to be considered during Phase B of the process, which will result in a recommendation to the City Council later this year.

The options are:

No-Build Alternative – No construction or major improvements would be made and Arroyo de los Chamisos would remain a barrier to vehicle traffic. The nearest arroyo crossings would remain Avenida de las Campanas to the east and on Rodeo Road. There remains a locked gate that allows for emergency crossings when the arroyo is dry, near Fire Station 7 behind the Santa Fe County Rodeo Grounds.
Alternative A – Connecting the Camino de los Arroyos/Kachina Ridge Drive intersection on the north side of the arroyo with Richards Avenue on the south side. This alternative would provide access to Cerrillos Road from Kachina Ridge Drive to Avenida de las Americas. It would also extend Camino de los Arroyos west to Vegas Verdes Drive. The existing gated emergency access road across the arroyo would remain as it is without fundamental changes.
Alternative B – Connecting the north and south segments of Richards Avenue, essentially as a straight shot across vacant land owned by the state Department of Game and Fish. The existing emergency access road would be replaced by a new all-weather crossing. The report notes that Richards Avenue north of the arroyo was constructed to accommodate an arroyo crossing from that point.

Alternative C – Connecting Richards Avenue from the south side of the arroyo with the Calle Princesa Juana/Camino Consuelo intersection, also crossing Department of Game and Fish property. Traffic could access Cerrillos Road from Camino Consuelo. The emergency access road would also be replaced by a new all-weather crossing under this alternative.

Note: Each alternative assumes a two-lane road with a 25 mph speed limit.

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