A long-anticipated traffic study commissioned by the New Mexico Department of Transportation on the impacts of opening an unused kiss-and-ride Rail Runner stop concluded that immediately opening the station might not make conditions worse at the intersection of St. Francis and Zia Road.
Driver behavior, signal timing and pedestrian activity might not be affected in the short-term, research indicates. Still, if officials open the station, the increased pedestrian activity should be monitored along West Zia Road.
But the study recommends expanding the eastbound capacity of Zia Road just west of the St. Francis intersections by adding a left turn lane and another through lane to help relieve congestion there by the year 2038. The $55,000 study "strongly" recommends yet another engineering study to evaluate the potential impacts and design needs associated with the proposed widening of the road.
The St. Francis Drive-Zia Road train station sits on property owned by Zia Station LLC, of which Santa Fe developer Merritt Brown's firm, SF Brown Inc., is a partner. The firm purchased an old pumice plant in 2005 on the land and had it demolished. On the advice of city and county officials who selected station locations, the state of New Mexico then paid to build the Rail Runner station on the firm's property, where Brown and his partners had ambitious plans for developing the land surrounding the station, including erecting commercial and retail space along with a parking garage to serve train passengers.
The Rail Runner has been speeding past the station for five years—representing a unfulfilled promise by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which announced in 2007 that the site would be one of Santa Fe's stops for the Rail Runner train.
Some residents living around the intersection rose up against the firm's mixed-use development proposal for the land, citing traffic, safety and standard-of-living issues.
Even without the station open, residents of the Candlelight neighborhood already feel trapped. Galisteo Road runs into West Zia Road—near the train tracks and West Zia-St. Francis Drive intersection. Turning from Galisteo to West Zia can be a nightmare and safety problem, they say.
Those residents lobbied Santa Fe lawmakers to pass a memorial in the state legislature requesting a traffic study.
Two years have gone by from the time the memorial passed until state officials released the study—frustrating the developers who had to wait for it.