Transportation needs for the future studied


Planning for Valencia County population growth over the next 25 years to meet transportation demands was the subject of a recent Mid-Region Metropolitan Planning workshop.

The University of New Mexico Geospatial Studies Group estimates there will be about 30,000 new residents in Valencia County by 2040, and 472,000 new citizens in the four-county region that includes Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties.

Most of the state's future growth is expected to occur between Valencia County and Santa Fe.

The Mid-Region Council of Governments is organizing several workshops to collect information from city planners, public works staff, residents and other interested parties to help develop the Futures 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan.

The objective is to look ahead at projected population and development to meet transportation demands, develop fluid traffic flows, pedestrian and bicycle pathways and to prioritize federal-funded road projects.

It is estimated about $3 billion worth of increased travel capacity for the four-county region, including nine new or reconstructed interchanges, 600 new lane miles and new road networks in Rio Rancho and Mesa del Sol, will be needed over the next 25 years.

"The whole idea of scenario planning is transportation affects so many other things," said Kendra Watkins, MRCOG socioeconomic program manager. "Transportation planning is related to quality of life, air quality, jobs and natural resources."

Traffic congestion and road connectivity is another huge issue, especially in Los Lunas. More than half of county residents have a 30 minute or less commute to work, about 40 percent travel more than a half hour and 82 percent drive alone. Only 10 percent carpool, but some use the Rail Runner.

A second interstate exit and river crossing in Los Lunas is another big challenge.

"I think everything hinges on that second exit," said Walter Baca, Los Lunas planning and zoning commissioner. "That has killed us for the last 10 years or more.

"The Valencia County Commission voted it down when the state was here with the money because of the opposition in Tomé," Baca said.

Currently, the village is buying right-of-way land for the Morris Road corridor, which is slated to go to N.M. 47 north of Tomé, but construction of the corridor is still a long way off.

Water was another concern brought up at the meeting because of the drought and the fact that people can't control it.

Preparing for the future can be complicated because to be ready for population increases, cities and towns need to have enough water rights and a good delivery system as well as roads and other infrastructure.

Louis Huning, a Los Lunas developer and former mayor, talked about the importance not only of water availability but also its delivery.

Dave Crawford, a Los Lunas planning and zoning commissioner, said water conservation and better irrigation methods are needed to lessen waste through evaporation.

"Without water, there is no development," said Rudy Archuleta, Los Lunas public works director. "Providing that water to the public through infrastructure is a big deal as well, but if you don't have the water rights to utilize that water, then you're building infrastructure in anticipation. Preserving what water rights we have and no longer selling water rights, I think is in our best interest."

The issue of economic diversity is also an issue for the future, such as the need to bring manufacturing and other industries to expand employment opportunities.

"If you solve the road connectivity issue, you could actually attract more job growth," said Nathaniel Feddes, Los Lunas planning technician.

Residents in Los Lunas value the rural character of the village, said Christina Ainsworth, Los Lunas community development director, and preserving farm land can be fostered by designating certain areas for high density residential and commercial enterprises, she said.

The Transportation Oriented Development, or TOD, around the Rail Runner station is one of the areas being primed for development in order to provide a walkable community where entertainment, shopping and housing are combined.

Preserving historic buildings and areas of town, such as Route 66 and Main Street in Los Lunas as well as creating greater pedestrian accessibility, walkable destinations and public gathering places, were also discussed.

Participants identified several areas in the county where they believe most of the growth and development will take place, including west of Interstate 25 in Los Lunas, the TOD around the Rail Runner station, Rancho Cielo, west of I-25 in Belen; the proposed Belen hospital site, residential development near the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus, the Meadow Lake and El Cerro Mission areas, Rio Communities and Tierra Grande.

Most of the workshop's participants work in land use and included planning and zoning staff from the county, Los Lunas and Rio Communities as well as public works staff and landowners.

Another meeting with city of Belen planners is being organized, said Watkins, as well a public workshop for residents' input and feedback around the end of April.

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