Corrales has turned back $167,417 to the N.M. Department of Transportation that now won’t be used to build trails for cyclists and horse riders along upper Meadowlark Lane. “This kind of sets us free,” Village Administrator Ron Curry said February 11, explaining that declining to use the grant means the Village will not have to comply with state-federal regulations.
Village officials had been stymied since 2018 in trying to move ahead with the long-planned paths after funders in Santa Fe denied Corrales’ request for a waiver from Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements due to steep slopes along the upper stretch of West Meadowlark. The multi-use trail along the north side of the road has been delayed after the Department of Transportation rejected a design for it that was deemed inconsistent with the federal regulations. The trail design for the west end of upper Meadowlark had unacceptable slopes both east-west and north-south. Apparently a slope in either direction would have been permissible unless it was too steep, but a slope in both directions was not.
Back then, the proposed solution was to obtain permission from property owners there to level out their driveway before it intersected with the future paved trail. But that never happened, so the over all project was stalled after the roadway was rebuilt with medians that incorporated stormwater drainage features.
Phase 2, the trails portion, will be accomplished with Village funds which, presumably, would not need to meet state-federal regulations, Village Administrator Curry said. Returning the money is “the first step in restarting the whole process,” he added. That will involve starting over with consultations among residents along upper Meadowlark, and the community in general, as to what is desired along the road connecting Loma Larga to bike lanes in Rio Rancho.
Curry said he expects to launch a new public involvement effort in April, starting with consultations with the current Village Council member representing the upper Meadowlark neighborhood Tyson Parker, joined by its previous representative, Dave Dornburg, who has indicated a desire to participate.
First proposed well more than a decade ago, the project secured funding through the Mid-Region Council of Governments for a bicycle connection between the two municipalities. But the Village declined the money after the Village Council was caught up in property owners’ disputes mainly about drainage. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXX, No.10, July 9, 2011 “Corrales Gives Back $160,000 for Upper Meadowlark Trail.” ) But proponents kept the project alive, building support community wide. Village officials conceded that more preliminary, conceptual work should have been done, especially regarding drainage. In July 2013, villagers convened for a planning charrette to develop realistic proposals for better using the exceptionally wide right-of-way.
The sessions led by Architectural Research Consultants under contract to the Village attempted to resolve ongoing conflicts over the future of upper Meadowlark. Neighbor-against-neighbor conflict had erupted over anticipated disruptions from the earlier funded project to construct bike trails along one or both sides of upper Meadowlark. Residents claimed the proposed changes might dump stormwater run-off onto their adjacent property, would increase traffic unbearably, make it difficult to safely exit their driveways onto Meadowlark and obliterate their frontage landscaping.
Proponents noted that upper Meadowlark is one of the few Village roads where plenty of right-of-way exists to accommodate multi-modal transportation, that bike lanes there would significantly improve opportunities for bicycle commuting, and that, as an inter-municipal project, funding had been allocated for it. From the beginning, opponents argued that funding provided through the Mid-region Council of Governments was nowhere near adequate to do the project right. No funds, for example, were provided for anticipated costs of managing drainage from the modified roadway.
After heated debate at council meetings over what should, or could, be done along upper Meadowlark, the mayor and council appointed a citizens’ task force to develop recommendations. It was headed by Pam Cox, an upper Meadowlark resident. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXX No.13 August 20, 2011 “Task Force Created For Upper Meadowlark Issues.”)
Then-Councillor Mick Harper, a strong advocate of the original plan, called for a new project along upper Meadowlark and subsequently won fellow councillors’ approval to seek other grants through the Council of Governments to solve long-running problems along Meadowlark. The preamble “whereas” statements in the resolution passed August 16 summed up the political impasse.
“Whereas, West Meadowlark Lane between Loma Larga and the Village boundary with the City of Rio Rancho is a residential road with a right-of-way 60 feet wide; and… West Meadowlark, because of its volume of traffic, is considered an urban collector by the [Council of Governments’] Metropolitan Planning Organization; and…
“… on its southern side, seven calles and driveways provide access to the lane for approximately 26 residences, with, in some instances, obstructed line-of-sight problems for residents and passing motorists; and
“…on its northern side, approximately 16 residences access the public road with driveways;
“…because of its grade and existing obstructions, West Meadowlark Lane could present drainage problems for the public right-of-way and adjoining properties; and;
“…by vote of the Village Council October 26, 2004, sixteen speed tables or humps were installed to calm traffic flow on West Meadowlark Lane; …in the event of a civic emergency evacuation situation, West Meadowlark Lane is one of three improved roads for exiting the Village;…”
According to the resolution adopted August 16, 2011, the new four-member task force was to be composed of at least two residents from the Meadowlark neighborhood, at least one person trained as an engineer and at least one person trained in the legal profession.
During its 50-year history as a municipality, Corrales has worked its way through difficult and contentious conflicts by calling upon citizen advisory groups. A previous task force, the Westside Road Committee, came up with compromises that allowed the controversial “north-south road” to go ahead as Loma Larga. Another worked through competing interests to produce a plan for allocating activity space in the brand-new Corrales Recreation Center after the pasture land was purchased from the late Annette Jones.
Both of those previous efforts were led by Roy Soto, who went on to serve on the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission. The unusually wide right-of-way along upper Meadowlark has attracted trails advocates’ interest for some time. That route was recommended for trail development in the 2009 Corrales Trails Master Plan.
Although the council endorsed the Meadowlark trail proposal in fall 2010, councillors rejected it the following April because residents along the road opposed the plan. Seeking a compromise, a representative of the Corrales Bicycle, Pedestrian Advisory Commission asked the mayor and council May 24, 2011 to use the funds ($160,500 from federal transportation enhancement funds and $53,000 from the State Legislature) to design a traffic plan to improve conditions along West Meadowlark. The plan, according to Commissioner Susan Zimmerman, would incorporate “traffic calming” methods that residents there have called for over the years faced with increased traffic to and from Rio Rancho.
“We recommend that the Mid-Region Council of Governments funds allocated for the West Meadowlark bike trails project be retained and applied as follows,” Zimmerman said. “We recommend using the combined funds for a comprehensive planning and design of an improved West Meadowlark Lane that addresses safety concerns as well as traffic-calming solutions. We note that MRCOG planner Julie Luna has indicated the appropriation for this original project could be used for preliminary, first-stage costs such as planning and design.
“There have been several meetings around town,” she continued, “including some by West Meadowlark residents who support pedestrian-bicycle and/or equestrian access on the road, particularly if it is designed and constructed in a safe and attractive way.
“Many of the residents have brought out legitimate concerns about West Meadowlark and the way it is used, including, but not limited to, drainage, visibility, safety and slope stability,” Zimmerman said.
“Our commission recommends using the funds available to contract with traffic planners and other professionals including engineers to produce a plan which incorporates a thorough public involvement process to address the concerns raised, as well as the potential for various alternative methods of transportation.”
Zimmerman pointed out back in 2011 that substantial public input had already been received, and would be useful in designing improvements to conditions along West Meadowlark. She urged the funds be used “to design a plan that is beautiful, functional and greatly enhances safety while honoring the rural character of our village.
The Bicycle, Pedestrian Advisory Commission’s recommendations came during the “Communications” part of the council’s May 24 meeting, so there was no opportunity for councillors to react to Zimmerman’s statement. But later in the meeting, Councillor Mick Harper urged that the council’s June 14 agenda include a discussion of those recommendations.
At the contentious April 12, 2011 meeting, the original inter-municipal project was rejected on a 4-2 vote. Councillors Harper and Sayre Gerhart wanted the project continued, citing unsafe conditions along upper Meadowlark, unusually ample public right-of-way and availability of grant money. Community discussion about a trail project along West Meadowlark from Loma Larga to the Rio Rancho boundary continued at Village Administrator John Avila’s trails master plan coordinating meeting a week later. Several Meadowlark residents attended, about half of whom expressed willingness to discuss a trail project there.
At the trails master plan coordinating meeting, MRCOG trails planner Julie Luna answered questions regarding the agency’s promised funding of the Meadowlark bike paths. Luna recommended the federal funding for the multi-modal project here not be turned back. She said her agency would likely be open to revisions to what had been proposed at that point for the Meadowlark trail project, including possible phasing.
For example, she explained, that might mean using the available funding for planning and design, and then seeking implementation and construction funds later. More than a half-dozen West Meadowlark residents attended the trails coordinating meeting April 19, 2011 and while some remained adamantly opposed to any trail project along their road, others expressed willingness to discuss alternatives that might be suitable and acceptable.
The council chambers were packed for the April 12 council meeting at which the Meadowlark trail project was voted down. Several of those residents spoke at the council meeting, citing safety issues, especially given the sight distances when they try to pull out from their driveways onto Meadowlark, and drainage concerns. They were apparently struck by Village Engineer Steve Grollman’s admission that the funding available to design the bike trail and compacted earth path did not specifically include money for drainage issues.
Opponents referred to the Village’s own trails master plan to contend that the Meadowlark trail would be unsuitable. The steep grade there was said to be counter to recommendations. They noted that the master plan’s priority list for implementation did not rank Meadowlark high for that and other reasons. But lots of villagers, especially trails advocates and bike riders, urged the council to approve the project.
Holly Roberts, then a member of the Village’s Bicycle, Pedestrian Advisory Commission, said the Meadowlark trail would start the community’s trails network. “The West Meadowlark trail will be the first real manifestation of our trails master plan,” Roberts said. “ It’s important for many reasons. It will provide us with a safe way to access Rio Rancho. It is the only way to get to Rio Rancho from the center of the village.”
Roberts said it would also allow villagers to get to the Thompson fence trail along the escarpment. She continued: “It will make it safer for school kids to wait for the bus, and it will be an important artery for the far northwest quadrant of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Area linking it with the rest of the city, allowing people to commute by bicycle if they so desire.
“Currently West Meadowlark is kind of safe… as long as you’re in a car. If you’re walking, riding a bike or on a horse, forget it. Landscaping has been installed to the edge of the road in many places, forcing anyone not in a car out into the busy road. Bikes must ride in the lane of traffic, slowing down all the cars behind them if there is no paved shoulder. The unpaved shoulder is sandy and full of obstacles, many placed there by homeowners.”