Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Acequia Trail Underpass Scheduled this Fall

Artist's rendering of the new underpass. Much larger than the Zia Rd crossing.
The final public meeting for the Acequia Trail Underpass was held last night. Groundbreaking for the project is expected in as soon as 6-8 weeks. Construction of the entire project is expected to take approx. 9 months, with a focus on completing the tunnel and disrupting traffic on St. Francis much quicker than this. Unlike many Santa Fe developments, this is a project that directly benefits those that live here. It bears remembering that the construction of St Francis Drive back in the 60's divided neighborhoods and projects of this sort begin to bind them together once again.

The meeting was an open house that drew the regular crew of cyclists, urban planners, and grumpy neighbors to discuss the project with the designer and city park and trails managers. Part of the project design was completed by local landscape architect Solange Serquis whom entertained my many questions. I was especially fond of her use of trees and rock work to lighten up what has always been a sad and dusty intersection. Unusually, several city councilors were in attendance (Bushee, Lindell, possibly Rivera) though I didn't get a minute to chat. Wasn't certain if they were there to be seen as part of such a large non-motorized infrastructure project or perhaps to get a feel for the public mood of such an undertaking.

Cross section view of traffic overhead, the underpass, and east/west entrances
This major piece of the city's urban trail network has been in planning for at least seven years if not longer. Dozens of public meetings led to this point. Big discussions three years back focused on whether the transportation link should be an overpass or underpass, with many elected officials advocating for a more visible, possibly iconic overpass at the city's busiest intersection. The majority of trail users backed the practicality and ease of use of an underpass (a no-brainer in my opinion). The two valid criticisms of the project at this time were user safety (minimized with several lighting and design elements), and the price tag. Cost estimates were large enough that the underpass was designated a non-priority project in the city's transportation plan with maybe an 8-12 year time horizon. This was until a $3.8m federal grant came through last fall and suddenly the largest and most visible non-motorized transportation project in the city's plans was green-lit. The incoming federal dollars equate to $7 in matching funds for each $1 of invested city funding for this project. Or when compared with the $15m in city voter approved trail bonds since 2008, this sum equals a direct return on public trails infrastructure investment of 25%. This is a straight up coup, and whomever wrote up that grant application deserves free drinks and several million hi-fives.

The overview drawings. Railyard Park at right. 
Well then, exciting times and lots to think about. Will the project be complete for next year's May Bike-and-Brew event? Unlikely I suppose. Will complaints from the pending construction traffic be loud and bellicose? Undoubtedly, but this would surely be the case for any road construction anywhere in town for any reason. In return for a few months of traffic cones the planned improvements will be of use for generations of Santa Feans. Will this project lead to more private investment and revitalization in nearby neighborhoods and/or along the nearby St. Francis and Cerrillos corridors? I'd assume yes. How soon until an underpass is feasible along the Santa Fe River Trail at Alameda? I'd guess it's a ways out unless another generous federal grant were to come along to grease the skids.

Update: Trail project delays run into Spring of '16

Related Posts:
 - Acequia Trail Underpass Funding (2014)
 - Arroyo Chamiso Underpass (2012)
 - Area Trail Improvements Page
 - Improvements to the Santa Fe Urban Trail System (2012)



View Acequia Trail - Santa Fe, NM in a larger map


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