ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — About 60 neighbors and parents gathered in the Jefferson Middle School cafeteria Tuesday to ask Albuquerque Public Schools to delay construction of a loop road they say would create pollution and drive down their property values.
APS officials say the loop is necessary to ensure the safety of students, who are currently being dropped off at locations all around the area because of traffic congestion.
Jefferson is on the northeast corner of Lomas and Girard NE. The proposed loop would run behind the school and connect those two streets. The site is owned by the University of New Mexico, but has been leased to APS on a long-term basis.
APS Chief Operations Officer Brad Winter said Tuesday the loop would be closed off with locked gates except during school pickup and drop off times. Winter said the project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015, but was moved ahead in the district’s capital plan because of danger to students.
“This is a health and safety issue,” Winter said. “We get so many complaints and near misses of students out there off Girard.”
On Tuesday evening, a group of neighbors expressed concerns about how the loop might add to pollution or whether a fence alongside it would block their view of the school and its track. Many said they weren’t involved early enough in the process.
“What you put us through in the last three weeks, in this wonderful neighborhood, is unconscionable,” neighbor Jacob Buehler angrily told Winter and the engineers and planners who were at the meeting.
Winter conceded that those affected should have been told earlier. “We could have probably done a better job,” he said. “What we’re trying to do now is get community input.”
He said traffic gets backed up, so parents drop their children off on the west side of Girard, which means they have to cross the busy thoroughfare to get to the school. “Parents drop them off on the west side, and they cross that traffic, and they cross everywhere. You would think parents would be absolutely delighted that we’re being proactive on this safety issue.”
Amber Hayes is far from delighted. Hayes lives on Lafayette Drive, along the east side of the Jefferson campus.
“They didn’t think about the surrounding neighbors with plopping down this road,” she said. “All of that is concerning, and just the impact of the project on our property values. My backyard opens onto the playing fields. I will have, with the existing plan, a 24-foot-wide road with idling cars.”