New Mexico transportation boss on deserted Rail Runner stop: ‘Use it or lose it’

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SANTA FE (KRQE) – Tom Church is getting tired of looking at the Zia Rail Runner stop.

At a busy intersection on the south end of St. Francis Drive here, the commuter train platform looks much the same as the 14 others along its 97-mile stretch. A stylized road runner is perched atop a silver spire identifying the platform as a Rail Runner stop.

But below that, two letters have fallen off a marquee that now reads “Ra Runner.” The 50-foot-long collection of benches and mission-style shelter canopies is wrapped in chain link fence. Tumbleweeds are trapped in the chain links and the top of the fence sags low enough for anyone with a can of spray paint to easily slip inside.

Church, New Mexico’s Transportation secretary, said he has nothing against the station, but after 6 1/2 years, he feels like it’s time to open it or decide that it’s not likely to get used. If that’s the case, Church said, “Then let’s move on. Let’s remove the canopy and put it somewhere else so it’s not an eyesore for everybody.”

After spending more than $500,000 to build the platform, the state is now considering whether to tear it down before it serves a single passenger.

Since the Zia Road stop was constructed in 2008, it has sat idly by as several trains a day rumble past. The city of Santa Fe and a private development company that owns the land people would walk or drive across to get to the station have been inching toward an agreement that would unlock the Zia stop.

Progress has been beyond slow.

“We’re going on seven years since it was built,” Church said. “I think it’s unacceptable to have public works projects going on this long.”

In March, Church sent a letter to Santa Fe City Manager Bryan Snyder asking for an official city position on opening the Zia stop. If it’s yes, Church is anxious to get going. If it’s no, Church said, then the city needs to make it official so the Transportation Department “can move forward with the removal of the station platform and canopy.”

There’s been no official response in the weeks since.

That’s in the works, said Keith Wilson, senior planner at the city-affiliated Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Essentially what’s standing in the way of the station opening now is us moving forward in getting the infrastructure designed and built.”

The city is trying to bring all the stakeholders in the project to the table once more to finalize access to the station. Right now, it’s essentially landlocked and accessible only by a bicycle and pedestrian path.

When the Santa Fe City Council officially asked the state to open the platform in 2011, it also finalized an agreement with the private development company — Zia Station LLC — that would require the company to finance the needed infrastructure. That includes a vehicle loop for drop-offs, sidewalks, fences and running power to the platform.

“We’re still completely on board,” developer Merritt Brown said in a telephone interview. The city released a conceptual drawing of the site a few years back. To move forward, Brown will have to pay for an engineer to make sure the concept can be built.

In addition, he’ll have to foot the bill for other requirements laid out by Secretary Church in a letter sent in the spring of last year. That includes modifications to the median of St. Francis Drive and fencing along the busy road.

“The last thing we need is people stopping along St. Francis Drive and then running across the tracks to get to it,” Church said of the platform’s location.

That’s okay with Brown, up to a point: “But if all of a sudden they throw $1 million (for additional improvements) at us…” He stopped, unwilling to continue the train of thought.

Disability advocates have been critical of the plans they’ve seen so far. The Governor’s Commission on Disability hasn’t been at the table for design conversations. Some people have complained that the proposal fails to deal with sloping streets that could prevent wheelchair access to the platform.

What’s needed, according to everyone who spoke to KRQE News 13, is a face-to-face meeting to make sure that what’s being planned by the city and paid for by the developer is acceptable to the state. It’s in the works, according to both Wilson and Brown.

Church is anxious to hear when.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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