JAL — While the N.M. Department of Transportation engineers improvements to NM 128 traversing through the City of Jal, a second project to develop a relief route continues after almost three years of discussion and study.
Although the NMDOT is involved in both highway projects, neither has yet received funding for construction and both remain in the study and design phases.
“NM 128’s not going to hold up until they get to it,” said Mayor Stephen Aldridge. “Something maybe has to be done in the interim. We know what it looks like. Everybody that drives it knows what it looks like. The relief route would take some pressure off of NM 128.”
The state road runs east-west through Jal as Kansas Avenue, with an average of about 10,000 vehicles per day, from pickup trucks to oilfield tankers.
City officials and the representatives of the Albuquerque-based design firm Stantec hosted a public meeting Tuesday regarding the proposed relief route.
With initial evaluation of alternatives completed earlier this year, the study now is in the more detailed evaluation of alternatives, and Aldridge and City Manager Matt White said they were pleased with the 30-40 participants in Tuesday’s meeting, held both in person and virtually.
“It’s always good to have public involvement and get their input,” Aldridge said, pointing out the project so far is only in a study phase. “It’s not fully completed.”
The engineers identified a general route near the northern edge of the city, but acknowledged some adjustments may need to be made.
Among those expressing concerns about the currently proposed route was Jody O’Briant, chairman of the Woolworth Library Trust.
“The (Woolworth) ranch was given to the community to be overseen by the trustees,” O’Briant told the News-Sun, noting several responsibilities include a library, a senior citizen annex and the golf course with country club.
“We’re currently trying to rehab the golf course and country club,” O’Briant said. “We just felt the current routing of the relief route was not going to be as advantageous to the trust and to the community as a whole.”
O’Briant insisted the Woolworth trustees agree a relief route is needed but would prefer changing the route to avoid interfering with the golf course.
“We didn’t realize the ‘preferred route,’ as they are calling it, was going to be so close in until just a few weeks ago. To us, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we’re trying to be a part of the solution, not a problem. I believe there can be some compromise and we’re more than willing to help figure those things out.”
Once the community agrees on details of the route, Stantec engineers have four more phases of the project: environmental documentation, preliminary design, final design and construction.
“We’re where we are and we’ll go from here and take everybody’s input,” Aldridge said, noting he anticipates meeting with O’Briant in the near future to discuss alternatives. “Let’s complete the study. It will be up to the council to decide on this.”
White added, “We had a lot of good comments. I wish they’d been there a year and a half ago because we’re down to the point where we have to make a decision what we’re going to do. If we had all this input when we started a year and a half ago, it would have been a lot easier. … I think we can still change it; it’s just tougher now.”
The other project is identified by the NMDOT as a combination of NM 31-NM 128 renovation and also has been the subject of public meetings recently.
“It’s like NM 128; there’s no identified funding,” Aldridge said. “They’ll start at the intersection of NM 31 and NM 128, about 52 miles west of us, but they’ve identified that intersection and Jal as the priority areas in that project.”
The mayor said the complications arise when the NM 128 project gets into the city, with the traffic continuing to flow while construction occurs.
“It gets complex as you come through town. We’ve got residential areas west of Third Street and businesses all along there,” Aldridge said. “Everybody does agree something has to be done. Whether that’s concurrent, the relief and the rebuild (of NM 128), the concern is what happens with the traffic along NM 128 when they start that rebuild. … What a complex issue. We do know southeast New Mexico needs some attention on this, badly.”
The mayor concluded, “You try to have a negative effect on as few and a positive effect on as many as possible, but you have to try to protect the community.”
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