(Left to right) Rio Rancho mayor Kevin Jackson,
Congresswoman Heather Wilson, and Bernalillo mayor Patricia Chavez
walk with other local officials along U.S. 550 in Bernalillo.
Jackson, Wilson, Chavez consider traffic congestion on Highway
550 during rush hour
Congresswoman Heather Wilson stood in mid-town Bernalillo on February
21 and watched cars crawling by on US 550 during rush hour. Wilson
wanted to see first-hand what commuters and business owners face
along US 550. She said solutions probably won't come easy, but she's
committed to helping ease traffic congestion along the increasingly
"Nobody wants to sit in traffic for hours as they begin or
end their day," said Wilson. "There's a lot of work ahead
of us to find practical solutions for these traffic headaches, and
some of that planning work has already begun. I look forward to
working with the Town of Bernalillo, the City of Rio Rancho, the
Pueblo of Santa Anna, and local community members and business people
to find workable solutions."
US 550, the major highway that runs through the Town of Bernalillo,
now carries an average of nearly 30,000 vehicles each weekday. The
Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) and the New Mexico Department
of Transportation (NMDOT) are in the process of completing a study
that identifies short and longer-term potential improvements for
this congested river-crossing corridor in the fast-growing northern
Rio Rancho/Bernalillo area.
Wilson, who represents Bernalillo and part of Rio Rancho, says
that the study will be a starting point for the work to come.
"This area, especially to the west of the Rio Grande, continues
to grow. We're seeing new houses, new jobs, and new schools,"
says Wilson. "These are all positive developments for central
New Mexico, but we also have to plan the infrastructure to support
all this growth."
The MRCOG is a planning and development district for the four
counties of Torrance, Sandoval, Bernalillo and Valencia. The MRCOG
is also the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Albuquerque
Metropolitan area, and serves as an agent for the NMDOT for the
development and operation of the New Mexico Rail Runner Express
commuter rail system.
US 550 is also part of the National Highway System and connects
Albuquerque with the northwest portion of the state. The study identified
several short-term measures that will improve traffic flow over
this stretch of the roadway. Potential changes include signal coordination,
improvements at the intersections of US 550 and NM 313 and at NM
528 and NM 550, as well as improvements to the US 550/I-25 interchange.
These changes are anticipated to cost between $16 and $18 million.
After Wilson strolled down Highway 550 with a group of local officials,
Bernalillo Mayor Patricia Chavez introduced several speakers.
Rio Rancho Mayor Kevin Jackson pledged to partner with all communities
affected by the crowded highway.
County Commission Chairman Don Leonard said he welcomes suggestions
about how to find answers to the problem before it gets worse. He
said, “Welcome to 550—the fastest route from Houston
to Portland,” reminding the group that the road through Bernalillo
is a major interstate trucking route.
Other speakers, including Mayor Chavez, echoed the cooperation
theme. Chavez noted the town’s benefit from gross receipts
taxes from businesses along the corridor, but also stressed the
urgency of finding a resolution to the problem due to safety concerns.
She mentioned the possibility of taking “bolder actions”
like a toll road and a moratorium on building permits.
County commissioner Orlando Lucero suggested a tunnel to channel
traffic under the Rio Grande to I-25.
Development that has already been approved will further jam the
corridor. Any solutions—if they exist—will take years
Sandoval County to get public transit service
Sandoval County is putting the final touches on their new transit
system. The highly anticipated “Sandoval Easy Express”,
a county wide public transit system, is on the books and ready to
begin in the spring of this year. Phil Rios, Director of Public
Works, announced at the February 15 county commission meeting that
shuttle buses should be up and running on the proposed routes in
just a few weeks.
There has never been a public transit system of any kind in this
area. The county does provide transportation to and from the senior
centers for those needing a ride, but until now, it has not addressed
the needs of those within the County desiring regularly scheduled
According to the Department of Public Works, the scheduled routes
will coincide with the Rail Runner Express and will have pickup
and drop off locations designed to provide access from each of the
terminals to major shopping and public services within the county.
The proposed county routes include Bernalillo, Jemez Pueblo, and
Santa Ana Pueblo. Routes from Algodones are in the planning stage.
The County’s proposed routes presently do not include transportation
to and from the Rio Rancho area, but may be included in the future
if the demand from the public makes it necessary.
There was no mention of what it will cost to use the service. A
transit station for the “Sandoval Easy Express” is in
the hands of the designers with no word on it’s location or
date of completion.
The Commission has also approved a six million dollar resolution
to begin researching the possibility of desalinating the water resources
thought to be located in southern Sandoval County. According to
county planner Michael Springfield, the monies allocated for this
project are from the Intel Bond proceeds already in place and do
not require additional tax revenue or other funding supplements.
There are five to six phases to this project with the first to
be the drilling of a well to make the initial determination if more
phases are required. An initial investment of five hundred thousand
dollars is to be used to fund the hydrological and engineering studies.
The remaining $5.5 million are to be held in a fund to be drawn
on as needed as the project progresses.
An additional phase to this project may include the building of
a desalinization plant with an estimated price tag of seven and
a half to eight million additional dollars.
In the fall of 2006, the county commission approved preliminary
plans for a planned community called Rio West which could occupy
some 12,000 acres of the southernmost part of Sandoval County. Rio
West is essentially a new city that could be home to 80,000 residents.
Final approval depends on proven water supplies.
State Engineer celebrates key agency milestones
New Mexico State Engineer John D’Antonio said in February
that the negotiation and execution of interstate stream compacts,
the many years that Steve Reynolds served as the New Mexico State
Engineer, and the adoption of rules and regulations for the Active
Water Resource Management initiative were key milestones in effective
water management in New Mexico.
Lt. Governor Diane Denish, Interstate Stream Commissioners, and
State Legislators, as well as the Chairman of the All Indian Pueblo
Council were present for the ceremonies, which took place in Albuquerque.
“Addressing the water issues of New Mexico has always been
high on my agenda. This year, it is the top of the ticket in the
‘Year of Water,’” said Governor Bill Richardson.
“We will aggressively advance an agenda that increases available
water supplies, enhances riparian and in-stream habitats, rewards
conservation, and makes water available for smart development—all
while protecting the rights and supplies of senior water users.
Water is the key element in the future of New Mexico, both for its
people and its natural beauty. We will give it the attention and
investment that it richly deserves.”
“Today, the most important initiative we have is Active
Water Resource Management, which will give us the tools to manage
highly variable water supplies,” said D’Antonio. “In
coming years, we also hope to make significant progress in the implementation
of Indian water rights settlements and the regionalization of water
During the news conference, a new logo for the agency was presented
that features the year when the territorial water code was enacted—1907—as
well the current year of 2007.
Then Bill Hume, the Governor’s Planning and Policy Director,
read a proclamation signed by Governor Richardson to kick off the
Century of Service activities for the coming year. The proclamation
was the first to be signed by the new Secretary of State, Mary Herrera.
Key goals cited for the Office of the State Engineer and Interstate
Stream Commission included continuing to make strides with the Active
Water Resource Management initiative, in order to be sure tools
are in place to manage future variability in water supplies, whether
due to droughts or floods. Other goals set forth by the State Engineer
include making progress on implementation of Indian water rights
settlements, continuing adjudications around the state, and continuing
to update the Waters database.
Bernalillo mayor Patricia
Look for the inaugural feature of “Listen
to the Signpost!”
Hear this entire interview with Bernalillo Mayor Patricia Chavez
and Ben Forgey as a podcast on the Signpost Web site at www.sandovalsignpost.com.
Mayor Chavez considers her first year in office
Patricia A. Chavez was elected as the first female mayor of the
town of Bernalillo last March. The Signpost sat down with her on
Thursday, February 22 to talk about the highlights and challenges
of her first year.
Signpost: So, this is your first year as mayor and it’s
been quite a year, really, for Bernalillo.
Mayor Chavez: It has been! I call it a wild ride (laughs).
SP: I bet. What were some of the highlights and accomplishments
of your first year?
MC: Oh, gosh, there were so many. I guess one of the key ones
is revisiting our entire financial and fiscal responsibility. Redirecting
funds that had never been invested, regenerating money for our taxpayers.
These are all sort of invisible types of things that the community
won’t see but have the overall safety and welfare of the community
in mind. We are now very well positioned to be able to go out and
secure [other monies].
For example, we just secured an $8 million revenue bond for the
construction of our wastewater treatment plant. Hopefully, when
it’s up and running within the next fifteen to eighteen months,
that question mark that residents and businesses have will go away.
We’re also going ahead with the treatment of the arsenic [in
our drinking water].
We’ve also taken a whole look at the technology deployment
here at town hall. We’ve actually invested in bringing us
up to the twenty-first century. We hired a real professional in
information technologies, John Gunther. The hope is that we are
able to catapult into providing our community with electronic services.
SP: Like electronic bill pay?
MC: Yes, and the posting of the minutes and access to the agendas
[of the Town Council]. The community as a whole is poised very well
in terms of wanting to embrace advancement and wanting to embrace
the melding of the old and the new.
In terms of items that make communities feel good, we were able
to rededicate the library to Martha Leibert. And we had a grand
opening of the New Mexico Rail Runner at our 550 station. Hopefully,
in March, we’ll be able to dedicate the service at our mid-town
Another major accomplishment that I am particularly pleased about
is the Streetscape Initiative; something that’s been on the
books for a very long time and was contentious at best when I inherited
SP: I know that the original idea was for very ambitious change.
Do you think that the item that passed was the bare minimum of what
could have been done?
MC: No. Because I think once we go to design and as we do it in
phases we’re going to learn and grow. Certainly, the vision
is first and foremost that we make the community accessible to everyone.
We need the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance. We
also need to slow down the traffic flow, so folks aren’t just
using that [Camino del Pueblo] as a bypass.
One of the other accomplishments—and it’s not a small
thing—when I took office, I instituted a monthly newsletter
in our water bill. I see it as a means of getting some highlights
and communication out to residents and businesses so that they at
least know what government is doing for them, and if there is a
concern, this can prompt them to get their voices heard.
I also want to talk about our Veteran’s Commemorative event
on November 4 last year, which was such a positive thing in bringing
our community together. We were able to identify in a short period
of time any veteran in any branch of service who had roots in our
community. We were able to identify over 200 living veterans and
over 100 deceased, which is over four percent of our current population.
In other communities, it is a relatively smaller number.
We also had our swimming pool open! We were able to open it to
the community for the first time in two or three years, and that
is really important for the children.
Along with that, we had close to 195 children in Camp Coronado.
It’s a Monday-through-Friday program and a six-to-six [6:00
a.m. to 6:00 p.m.] program for the duration of the summer vacation,
which was a big relief to parents. It was very well received, to
the extent that we even have non-residents asking to participate
in the program.
What else? Internally, we continued to analyze each department
and we’re undergoing performance reviews, which had never
been done before.
One of the other highlights is that we were able to secure the
Cornerstone Grant, where this summer we’re going to be able
to hire twenty individuals, from sixteen to twenty-five years old,
who are not necessarily skilled, but we’ll teach them a trade
in adobe-making and masonry.
SP: Oh really? I’m really pleased to hear about that.
Who’s directing that program?
MC: Maria Rinaldi.
SP: What are some of the upcoming challenges and goals for
you and for this town?
MC: You know, 550 traffic flow is certainly a concern. We want
to work with all of the partners and stakeholders (Sandoval County,
Rio Rancho, Sandia and Santa Ana Pueblos, and NMDOT). There are
two concerns. One is maintaining access to our businesses along
550, and the second concern is our public safety. We want to be
sure that whatever we do does not erode our revenue base and that
there’s due consideration for the safety aspects and incidents
and the cost associated that the town is necessarily going to incur.
My recommendation, my ongoing recommendation, is we need to be a
little bit bolder in our thinking. You know, toll roads, we may
need to consider turning 550 into a toll road. Maybe even look at
building moratoriums. If we don’t have the capacity to get
people from one point to another, then maybe we need to rethink
how we are developing.
SP: And ‘we,’ meaning...?
MC: The adjacent districts, yes.
SP: So what have you learned about Bernalillo and yourself
MC: It’s a balance. In terms of myself, it’s a balance
of my commitment to the community and my family. My main priority
is to my family and thank goodness that they are supportive. Bill,
my husband, is a local attorney, and our daughter is seven years
old. We’ve had interesting discussions and juggling schedules.
It’s also been a wonderful learning experience for our daughter.
She has been exposed to things she had never been exposed to. She
can carry conversations now with the young [and older] and everyone
In terms of the community, I’ve learned that you need to
listen to people. I guess I innately always knew that, but as the
head of the municipality, it’s even more incumbent that you’re
accessible, that you’ll engage people in identifying solutions,
and you can’t do it alone.
And there are needs out there [in Bernalillo]. It’s not
stagnant. It’s dynamic. What I set out as a vision for this
community is truly evolving to that. We are a vibrant community,
and if we put the emphasis in all the right places, it will only
grow and develop more so.