It appears that another summer will go by without commuter-train service
at the never-used Rail Runner Express station built years ago near the
intersection of Zia Road and St. Francis Drive.
Although city officials last August approved a plan for putting the
idle station to use and for using city money to reimburse a developer
for sidewalks, the state Department of Transportation says it won't ask
train planners to begin service there any time soon.
Instead, the department told the city this month that the agency
will first comply with a legislative memorial requesting a traffic study
of the intersection. That report won't be out until next year.
"NMDOT will be contacting the Santa Fe [Metropolitan Planning
Organization] in the near future to initiate this study," reads an April
11 letter from Transportation Secretary Alvin Dominguez. "After the
completion of the study, NMDOT will re-evaluate and respond to your
request to open the Zia Station."
At the urging of local officials, the state spent more than $1
million to build the train platform in 2008 on the public right-of-way
with the intention that owners of adjacent land would build access to it
as part of a development project. Legal hurdles, neighborhood disputes
and economic challenges kept that development from moving ahead right
Now, developer SF Brown says the firm is ready to build a driveway
that would allow buses and private vehicles to swing through the station
area under a design approved by the city, but work can't go further
until the state gives the green light.
The landowners have already conducted traffic counts and analysis
for the area and will share that data with the state, they say. But so
far, no one from the Department of Transportation has contacted them,
said Merritt Brown. Meanwhile, larger development plans for the site are
also simmering on a backburner.
"We are committed to help fund the installation of these temporary
facilities, and now, we as a partnership have to have more discussion
about moving forward," he said. "We are on a holding pattern until this
Brown said two construction projects in the area this summer will
likely present challenges to scientific traffic counts if they are
conducted right away. City contractors are working on a pedestrian
underpass north of Zia Road that has drivers making a serpentine
maneuver, and next month, the state expects to close the Interstate 25
offramp at St. Francis Drive for 55 days.
The intersection of Zia Road and St. Francis Drive has been
identified in local traffic analysis as "failing," but neither state or
city officials have acted to alter it.
Mike McEntee, adjutant secretary at the Department of
Transportation, said the study won't likely begin until after traffic
conditions in the area return to normal following construction projects
and Santa Fe's annual Fiesta has concluded in September.
A draft report on findings and recommendations from yet-to-be-hired consultants is expected in early 2013, he said.
McEntee noted that the study will cost the department about $60,000,
and since the state Legislature didn't appropriate money for the
project, that cash will come from the state "Road Fund."
He said Thursday that the usefulness of that Zia Road station has always been questioned by department staff.
"I can tell you that many entities within the department were
against Zia [Road station] because they knew," he said. "Our traffic
engineers are pretty smart people. They knew that the Zia Road station
was not really going to be able to work. There was opposition to it
internally, but for political reasons they went ahead with it anyway."
The Rail Runner Express commuter train project was part of former
Gov. Bill Richardson's vision for increasing public transit in New
Mexico, but the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has not been
enthusiastic about dedicating more state money to train infrastructure.
Santa Fe leaders debated for several months before they chose the
site at Zia Road near St. Francis Drive as one of the five potential
stations in the city, culminating in a December 2007 vote by city and
county elected officials on the Metropolitan Planning Organization to
request that the state build the stop there in time for the start of
train service to Santa Fe in late 2008.
Santa Fe stations that are in use include the South Capitol Station
near the Department of Transportation headquarters between Cordova Road
and Alta Vista Street, the downtown Railyard Depot and a park-and-ride
stop near the interchange of N.M. 599 and Interstate 25.
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or email@example.com.
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