It’s official! The Rail Runner Express breaks the inaugural banner in Santa Fe kicking off the completion of the multi-million dollar transit project that links cities from Belen to Santa Fe.
Governor Bill Richardson and Representative Elect Martin Heinrich converse on the upper deck of the Rail Runner during the maiden voyage to Santa Fe.
Rail Runner flies to Santa Fe
—L.A. Williams, Signpost
The New Mexico Rail Runner Express made its maiden voyage from Belen, through Albuquerque and Bernalillo, to Santa Fe on December 15. The Inaugural run left the Sandoval 550 Station at approximately 10:25 a.m. with Governor Richardson, members of the New Mexico State Transportation Commission and New Mexico Department of Transportation, along with a number of legislators, representatives, mayors, commissioners, and a slew of media.
The cold and snowy weather made the trip that much more exciting; after all, the idea of flying along the tracks, past the motorists fighting the icy and dangerous road conditions, would only help to show all those watching or aboard, that the Rail Runner is a safe, practical, and wonderful method of transportation.
Following two brief media stops along the way, we arrived at the Santa Fe Depot at 11:20 a.m. and piled into one of the new commercial buildings for a reception. Rhonda Faught, New Mexico Transportation Secretary, spoke of the massive effort by everyone involved and that with such tremendous dedication, the project was, “kept on time and kept on budget.”
“Quality of life is a valuable economic tool,” she added, “we could not have done it without the forward thinking of our Governor.”
Governor Richardson, the future Secretary of Commerce, praised the Rail Runner’s abilities to not only provide safe and economical transportation for commuters, but also as an economic base for the state, as well as it’s potential to move tourists more easily through the corridor.
“By thinking big, we’ve started an economic foundation for New Mexico,” said Richardson. “Through the legislative efforts that started six years ago, we are seeing history today. This is transportation for the future and the next step forward in the history of our state.”
Among much support for the project, Sandoval County, in particular, was praised for its contribution of $10 million, a train set and two stations.
After the ceremonies, we all loaded aboard the train for the return trip. The snow was coming down harder than it was on the journey up to Santa Fe, and we watched as traffic crawled along the Interstate. On both sides of the train, automobiles slid onto the shoulders of the road due to the treacherous conditions. We watched the folks on the road, marveled at the white scenery, talked and drank our coffee, all at sixty-plus miles an hour.
The crowd, during the ceremony, was told there would be late-night trains traveling the corridor on Fridays and Saturdays. Sitting in the Rain Runner’s comfortable seats on the return trip, many of the riders expressed their delight with the knowledge that they could travel this route for entertainment, dining, art, and other events that occur afterhours, and still take the train home. There are a number of connecting shuttles to various sites in Santa Fe, such as the Plaza, Canyon Road, and other destinations.
Bus service on the Sandoval Easy Express (SEE), the County's first rural, public transit service, began in April, 2008. Sandoval Easy Express service is provided Monday through Friday along two corridors: Route 4, approximately 50-miles in length, and Route 22, approximately 40 miles in length. The SEE will provide services to the New Mexico Rail Runner Express station in Bernalillo as well as the Sandoval County Health Commons and other stops along Rio Rancho and Southern boulevards in Rio Rancho. The routes also provide a connection to the Route 151, the commuter rail shuttle between Rio Rancho and the Los Ranchos / Journal Center station, which has stops at Intel and Cottonwood Mall.
The SEE offers the ability to travel in comfort when you want to visit friends and family. There are a variety of destinations you can get to by using the SEE, including Rail Runner Train Stations, the Sandoval County Health Commons, employment sites, educational institutions, and governmental services.
In Albuquerque, Mayor Martin J. Chavez and ABQ RIDE Director Greg Payne announced the new Albuquerque International Sunport/Downtown Nonstop Express Route which will connect riders between the Alvarado Transportation Center and the Sunport. It was designed specifically for Santa Fe Rail Runner commuters and will run throughout the day Monday through Friday and corresponds with the Santa Fe train schedule.
The NM Rail Runner Express uses a zone-based fare structure.
The amount you pay for your ticket is determined by the distance you travel, so that shorter trips cost less than longer ones. All stations have been subdivided into zones for this purpose. There are a total of six zones from Belen to Santa Fe. A maximum of $9 is spent for a day pass for all six zones for one person. There are discounts for buying tickets online, seniors, students, and persons with disabilities.
The New Mexico Rail Runner Express is offering free weekend holiday service through January 4, 2009, and has added more trains to the schedule on Saturdays and Sundays in order to accomodate the increase in passengers.
As Washington, D.C. pushes for the renewal of this country’s infrastructure, the Rail Runner could place New Mexico on the cutting edge of more efficient energy and transportation planning. Then again, maybe we’re twenty years late getting to the game; after all, Governor Tony Anaya suggested this be done in the eighties, when the cost would have been a fraction of what it is today.
The opinions vary as to the necessity of the Rail Runner, but I walked away from the monumental occasion with an appreciation of something said by Governor Richardson, who quipped, “We will be less stressed out for riding this train, and in turn, we will be kinder, nicer people.”
For more information regarding Rail Runner schedules and fares, visit www.nmrailrunner.com, or call (866) 795-RAIL (7245). For connectors in the Albuquerque area log onto www.cabq.gov/abqride.com, or call 243-RIDE. For information regarding the Sandoval Easy Express, call (877) 660-1110 or log onto www.sandovalcounty.com or www.riometro.org
Sandoval County wraps up 2008
— Signpost Staff
The final Sandoval County Commission meeting of 2008 was held December 18, where Vice-Chairman David Bency, presented awards to County Commission Chairman Joshua Madalena, Commissioner Jack Thomas, and County Manager Debbie Hays for their dedication and years of service to the County. Bency recognized their efforts, “for helping make Sandoval County a better place.”
Acting County Manager, Juan R. Vigil, who will be taking Debbie Hays place come January, presented a request for approval to adopt a new Personnel Ordinance and Personnel Rules and Regulations including a Sexual Harassment Policy. The new Ordinances would replace existing rules and regulations for all county employees. The action was denied on the basis that it still appears to be a work in progress. The commission voted to have a “work session” between department heads and employees to work out any final concerns, prior to the next commission meeting in January.
The Sandoval County Broadband project is quickly approaching the completion of Phase I. The backbone of the system will be completed in December 2008 and the testing phase will be completed in January 2009. John Brown, a member of the project’s oversight committee, said the project is currently 18% over budget (roughly $140,000), and expects it to be 20% over budget at completion.
The broadband project is nearing the end of its fourth year of a five year projected timeline. Wireless internet links have been established between the Sandoval County Judicial Complex and Placitas, and between the village of Cuba and Placitas. The link between Pajarito and Placitas has not yet been established because crews working in Pajarito had to halt work early in December due to icy weather conditions that made it too dangerous to work on the tower.
January tests should confirm whether all links will provide a functioning network. The free broadband access would initially benefit schools, healthcare facilities and emergency services in the county.
Board of Finance
The Commission heard reports from the Sandoval County Board of Finance regarding county investments and market trends, current activity in the Treasurer’s Office, and tax collections. With the economy struggling in the states, it appears as though Sandoval County has weathered the storm fairly well. To see where your tax dollars are distributed, please see the pie chart above.
Southwest Multimedia Education Collaborative (SMEC)
A request by Martie Furber, Executive Director, SMEC, was approved to fund the Learning Enhancement to Advance Reading and Numeracy (LEARN) program at Shining Stars Preschool and Cuba Independent Schools in the amount of $261,575.
The program will train and certify fifteen professionals to implement learning intervention techniques in these schools. Studies have shown that years one through five of a child’s life are critical not only in the development of the brain, but also that early stimulus affects skills needed for social interaction and future learning and development. “By doing this now, we are saving (them) from a lot of future problems,” said Commissioner Donnie Leonard referring to the kids in these schools.
Commissioner David Bency was the only person opposed to the Proposal. He said he didn’t have a problem with the program, but did with the timing of such a request. “I would like to see this postponed until after the legislative session, so that schools know where they are budget wise. Let the dust settle until Spring,” said Bency.
Planning and Zoning Commission Update
—L.A. Williams, Signpost
Moises Gonzales, the Sandoval County Development Department’s long-range planner, presented the P&Z Commission with a Draft Area Plan for the Placitas Area at the meeting held December 11, 2008. Gonzales noted that there had been work done on the plan to establish clear boundaries for the previously proposed Placitas districts, see Signpost, December 2008. The commission had request, during a November meeting, for greater clarity on where proposed district boundaries lay on the map.
Now that the Area Plan is in the home stretch, there are currently two more scheduled meetings before Placitas residents will see P&Z code in place come May, 2009; a Review of Final Plan meeting will be held by the County Commission on January 29, and a Final Hearing for Plan Adoption is scheduled for February.
The P&Z also heard requests by Insiteworks PC, agent for Placitas Ventures LP, for the approval of a Zone Map Amendment from RRA (Rural Residential/Agricultural) to MP (Master Planned District) for a master planned community to be located on approximately 103 acres of property located on the north side of Highway 165 in Placitas. The MP included proposals for residential, municipal, office, business, and open space uses. This request had been deferred from the May 22, 2008 public hearing.
Commission Vice-Chairman Todd Hawthorne wanted to know what had changed with the plan since the May hearing. Knight Seavey, from Insiteworks, said they had removed C-1 zoning (Neighborhood Commercial District) from their submission and, among other items, were “willing to commit to a Police substation and working with the fire department.” Seavey also stated that they “want to attract artists and home offices.”
The request was deferred by the commission until the April 23, 2009, meeting when the Placitas planning process is complete and area uses will be better defined.
Casamento named County Detention Center Director
Alfred Casamento, an experienced correctional professional with almost two decades of experience in key detention facility positions, has been named director of the highly-recognized Sandoval County Detention Center.
Casamento has served as the Center’s deputy director of administrative services since 2006. He will replace Director Jerry Paszkiewicz, who is retiring effective December 31, 2008. Casamento, a seventeen-year employee of Sandoval County’s Detention Center, has worked in all aspects of the Center’s operations and has held supervisory roles since 1994. In his current position, Casamento is responsible for the Center’s policy development and for recruitment, hiring, and training of employees. The 385-bed Sandoval County Detention Center has 124 employees.
Casamento was hired as a County Detention Center officer in 1991 and later served as transport officer, line corporal, and sergeant. He was named training lieutenant in 1997 and later appointed administrative captain. In 2005, Casamento was named the Center’s deputy director of prisoner operations.
“The Sandoval County’s Detention Center is a model for both security and safety, and for humane treatment of inmates,” said incoming Sandoval County Manager Juan Vigil. “County residents are extremely fortunate to have someone of Al’s caliber to head the Center. Al brings in-depth knowledge and experience in all aspects of the Center’s operations.”
“Al also is widely regarded as a highly effective administrator and manager,” Vigil said. “His experience and knowledge will assure the Center continues to securely house inmates being held on charges in a variety of jurisdictions, while also protecting the safety of staff, inmates, visitors, and the public.”
Casamento said he was attracted to the director’s position as a way to continue the policies and procedures he helped develop and to “position the Center for the challenges that the County’s rapid growth will bring in the years ahead.”
“The Sandoval County Detention Center is recognized in the profession nationally and locally as one of our country’s most secure and safest detention facilities,” Casamento said. “All of the Center’s employees take that responsibility very, very seriously.”
“The policies and procedures we have in place have been tested and proven,” he said. “While we will always strive to improve on the Center’s safety and security, I intend to keep in place the core policies and procedures that assure the safety of County residents, the Center staff, and its inmates.”
TIDES project supports entrepreneurs in Sandoval County
Small business development, job creation, and community building are the ambitious goals of a new program in Sandoval County offering clients ongoing training and support. The TIDES project will match entrepreneurs one-on-one with financial advisors, marketing advisors, coaches, and business groups on a weekly basis for six months. There will also be monthly meetings incorporating business workshops and group support.
The TIDES project is actively seeking entrepreneurs who would like to receive these business advising services for the next six months. The cost of the program is $10 per month, due to the generosity of funding from the TIDES Foundation. Weekly advising, computer access, business software, newsletters, and a discussion group will be available to participants.
Empowering Our Communities (EOC) in Bernalillo secured the grant for the project. Funding is provided by the TIDES Foundation, which supports creative, innovative organizing strategies that lead toward raising wages for working people. Sally Moore, Director of EOC, notes that a program intensively supporting entrepreneurs is an important addition to economic development programs in Sandoval County. The TIDES project will complement the services offered through the Small Business Development Office, WESST, and other organizations.
Fehrunissa Willett, Director of the TIDES project, intends to form partnerships with civic and community leaders, economic development organizations, and local government representatives. A guiding coalition of professionals coupled with the entrepreneurs participating in the project will bring a broad perspective to designing the most effective means of encouraging small business growth in Sandoval County.
To become a part of the TIDES project or receive more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.