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Great divide on Santa Fe’s Richards Avenue

November 28, 2018

Richards Avenue should’ve been called Disjointed Drive.

Separated by an arroyo between Siringo Road and the rodeo grounds, pavement on the north and south ends of the road has never touched.

The two stretches of roadway are connected by a dirt and gravel path that only emergency responders are allowed to use, forcing many motorists to cut through residential streets to access the south end — which leads to Santa Fe Community College and some of the city’s newest and biggest subdivisions — or the north end, which carries traffic to Cerrillos Road and Agua Friá Street.

“We have so much traffic — so much traffic — and now with Las Soleras being built out, it’s even more,” said south-central District 4 City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler.

In a look at an attempt to alleviate some of that neighborhood traffic, the city of Santa Fe is about to embark on a study on the possibility of building a crossing over the Arroyo de los Chamisos, which has always served as a roadblock to connecting Richards Avenue.

It’s not necessarily a new idea.

“Multiple past efforts by the city to study a crossing and ultimately constructing a crossing have met stiff and vocal public opposition,” city documents state. “In the past, crossing of the Arroyo de los Chamisos has been focused on a Richards crossing to connect at the west end of Siringo Road.”

While the new study will analyze extending Richards Avenue between Siringo and Rodeo roads — an idea that former City Councilor Ron Trujillo said was “adamantly opposed” by residents of the Bellamah neighborhood — it will evaluate at least two other options, including connecting Richards Avenue farther west, toward Vegas Verdes.

The nearly $250,000 study, which will be conducted by the New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group, will evaluate costs and traffic counts, among other factors, said John Romero, director of the city’s Engineering Division.

“Right now, we’re only looking at doing a study just to have some numbers to look at,” Romero said.

“I know there’s a lot of opinion regarding the crossing, both for and against it, so we want to have some objective numbers to present so [the mayor and city councilors] can make an informed decision,” he added.

Romero said the study is expected to begin at the start of the new year. As part of the study, the contractor will solicit public input.

Christine Sherman, who has lived on the corner of Richards and Siringo for 14 years, said she’s certain her neighbors will object to extending the roadway from that intersection to Rodeo Road.

“This subdivision has objected to this road coming through here for many years,” she said Tuesday.

“If you bring this road through, you’re going to destroy this neighborhood,” she added. “It would be exactly like having a highway.”

Sherman said residents are concerned about additional traffic, noise and light pollution.

“We already act as a main road, basically,” she said. “You bring another one through here, and we’re going to have trucks coming through to the big-box stores off of I-25. We don’t want that, obviously.”

Sherman said the previous homeowner told her that extending Richards Avenue to Rodeo Road has been a discussion that had been “going on forever,” which was a constant source of worry.

“I’m going to put a Dunkin’ Donuts right here if they bring that road through,” she said while standing in her backyard. “Don’t say that. But that’s always been in the back of my mind because they’re going to destroy the value of my property.”

City Councilor Mike Harris, who also represents District 4, said he doesn’t want his constituents to panic. He emphasized that the issue is only being studied at this point and that the public will have more than one opportunity to weigh in.

“People will be given ample opportunity to participate,” he said.

After he was elected in 2016, Harris called the lack of connection of Richards Avenue “the most significant infrastructure issue” facing his council district and vowed to bring the discussion back out in the open. Various homeowners associations have offered words of support and encouragement, he said.

“I’ve told them that I feel strongly about it,” Harris said. “It’s a matter of convenience, and it’s a matter of equity toward some of the other neighborhoods that get more traffic.”

Vigil Coppler, who was elected earlier this year, said residential streets such as Camino Carlos Rey and Avenida de las Campanas are being inundated with traffic because Richards Avenue doesn’t connect.

“It’s certainly been a political issue,” she said. “Sometimes those issues don’t gain traction, but we shouldn’t stop trying to alleviate our traffic congestion. It’s really unbelievable.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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