“See them tumbling down
Pledging their love to the ground
Lonely but free I’ll be found
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds
Cares of the past are behind
Nowhere to go, but I’ll find
Just where the trail will wind
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds”
Lyrics to song by Sons of the Pioneers, Songwriters: Bob Nolan, Tumbling Tumbleweeds lyrics © Williamson Music, Inc.
RAIL TRAIL PLANS ANNOUNCED
On July 22, with great fanfare, Mayor Tim Keller was joined by world-renowned architect Antoine Predock at the Neon Park Museum to announce plans for the Albuquerque Rail Trail project. The Rail Trail project is a 7- to 8-mile multi-use pedestrian and bike trail circling downtown that will connect key destinations in the downtown area. The City has 400 miles of bike trails and paths that run along the bosque arroyos and city streets. The trail will give residents and visitors a trip through Albuquerque’s history. Riders and pedestrians can stop at certain points, scan a QR code and learn more about what they are seeing.
It was in June 2014 that the City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Rail Yards Master Plan. The Rail Trail was first announced by Mayor Tim Keller in 2021. According to the Keller Administration it will encourage economic development, healthy recreation, and cultural expression.
Predock and his team are spearheading the design of the City project, creating a “modern and artistic” pedestrian parkway that according to city officials reflects the culture and history of the city. The intent is to highlight the history of the railroad and Route 66.
RAIL TRAIL PROJECT DESIGN
World renowned Architect Antoine Predock is designing the Rail Trail Project. Predock has lived Albuquerque for decades. He is one of the top living architects in the world who lives in Albuquerque. Predock designed the Rio Grande Nature Center and the La Luz community, which was Predock’s first solo architecture project. Predock is known internationally with his architecture firm having an office in Taipei. His fingerprint as an Albuquerque based architect can be seen throughout New Mexico.
The Rail Trail is located along the existing railroad corridor in the heart of Albuquerque. It travels past the Alvarado Transportation Center, crosses the historic Route 66, and the historic alignment of El Camino Real De Tierra Adentro. The historic communities of Barelas, South Broadway, and Martineztown are located adjacent to the corridor. The trail also connects a number of community assets, both public and private.
The Rail Trail will consist of 11 major sections all in the Downtown area from the Rail Yards to the Sawmill District, Old Town, Tingley Beach, the Barela’s neighborhood, and back around in a 8-mile loop. The trail will show major attractions like scenic stops along the Rio Grande, tourist spots, and a unique raised trail area with a plaza beneath for shops and food vendors over by the convention center. It will also have a redone underpass with lighting at Central and 1st highlighting the Historic Route 66.
City officials say the multi-level structure will include space for food trucks, vendors and other events on the ground. An elevated path will also give people views of the Sandia mountains in the distance. Two plazas — Enchantment Plaza and Iron Horse Plaza — will be incorporated into the trail.
Other features include a tree-like, geometric structure wrapping over the bike path, which will be rooted in spaces that could be used for retail or other purposes. Collages, representing the history of the areas the path crosses, will be embedded into the street. Green space is also a priority. The city is currently in the process of acquiring properties around the area to use as green space on the trail, including one at Marquette and Commercial. As for safety along the trail, city officials said they are working to have the trail fully lit with street lights and security officers.
“AURAS” AND PLAZITAS, OH MY
The project has been described by city officials as “fanciful” and “cosmic”. Throughout the length of the 8 mile trail there will be distinct “zones”. Project Architect Antoine Predock describes these zones as “auras.” Each aura celebrates the culture and history of that area. The auras contain “plazitas” along the path that serve as access points and gathering spots for activity and community. Each plazita will have a digital explanation of the zone featuring music, people, foods, and the broader “story of us.”
Predock identifies the following auras along the trail:
- Rio: The Rio Grande sustains life in Albuquerque and draws people for agriculture, recreation, and ritual. The Rail Trail loop connects to the Bosque Trail, taking people to the river.
- Origins / Albuquerque: Old Town is the historic heart of Spanish Colonial Albuquerque and a destination for locals and tourists.
- Tiguex: The Tiguex people originally inhabited this land. This zone honors the first people to live here and recognizes that their descendants are still here and contribute to the vibrancy of our present and future.
- Sawmill: The lumber yards were an important industry in our city. Neighborhoods grew around the sawmills to sustain the people who worked there.
- Enchantment / Enchantment Plaza: From this zone, you will be able to see the Sandias to the east, volcanos to west, and the enchantment of the sky and land everywhere you look. It is a celebration of the landscape that inspires all who see it.
- Industry: Factories and warehouses clustered along this area for ease of shipping dry goods and heavy materials. Family run businesses still fuel commerce in the zone.
- 66: The Mother Road brought people to and through Albuquerque in the automobile. Albuquerque continued to be a crossroads for travel and commerce with Route 66.
- Iron Horse: The arrival of the rail and trains transformed Albuquerque. The Rail Yards were once an economic powerhouse during industrialization. This area continues to be the hub for moving people and goods by train through the city.
- Barelas: Barelas is one of the oldest neighborhoods that grew as a result of the railroad coming to Albuquerque. Barelas maintains many traditional ways and fortitude of the families that built this community.
- Umbral: Umbral is the Spanish word for threshold. This place is the original crossing of the Rio Grande and the entry point for the Camino Real.
25-FOOT NEON TUMBLEWEED
Project Architect Antoine Predock places what he and Mayor Keller believe is an iconic Albuquerque image front and center: the tumbleweed. Predock envisions a giant, electric tumbleweed that will be a key feature of the Rail Trail. Predock proclaims the image of a tumbleweed rolling down the road is part of every resident’s experience and is enshrined in pop culture.
The new Rail Trail is expected to pass right through a neon tumbleweed, and a new “Enchantment Plaza” near the Big-I. Mayor Tim Keller became downright giddy with excitement with a grin on his face and a smile in his voice during the July 22 presentation as he talked about the 25-foot neon tumbleweed. Keller said this:
“When this happens, no one will think of Albuquerque without the neon tumbleweed at the intersection of Route 66 and the railroad.”
INITIAL PROJECTED COST ESTIMATES
The total projected cost is $80 Million. The project is roughly half funded and with the city almost ready to break ground on it. So far, the city has set aside $40 million for the project and is ready to break ground as the remaining funding is secured.
Funding for the Rail Trail Loop includes $15 Million from the City, $10 million from the State of New Mexico, and $11.5 million from the Federal RAISE Grant, totaling $36.5M for the full loop. Money from bonds that voters are expected to vote on in November’s city election could also be used for the project.
The Albuquerque Rail Trail Framework Plan outlines that the project will be built in 6 segments. The Framework plan outlines the probable construction costs of each phase of the project.
Phase 1a is the Marquette Crossing with a cost of $2,000,000.
Phase 1b is the Lomas – Tijeras phase with a cost of $3,898,018.
Phase 2 is the Tijeras – Central Ave portion of the trail costing $1,988,000.
Phase 3 is Tijeras Access + 1ST Street to Central Ave portion of the trail costing $2,424,000.
Phase 4 is the Alvarado Station portion of the trail costing $990,000.
Phase 5 is the 1ST Street – Gold Ave to Coal Ave portion of the trail costing $2,371,000.
Phase 6 is the 1ST Street – Coal Ave to Rail Yards portion of the trail costing $2,580,000 .
Total cost for all 6 phases is $16,251,018
See Albuquerque Rail Trail Framework Plan, Page 30.
The Albuquerque Rail Trail Framework Plan outlines funding Sources:
City Transportation Funds (committed): $3,000,000
City Lodgers Tax (committed): $2,000,000
State Legislative Request: $5,000,000
Federal Infrastructure Grant: $5,239,000
Total available funding: $15,239,000
See Albuquerque Rail Trail Framework Plan, Page 30
City officials said they hope to break ground by this fall and have some elements open to the public by late 2024. City officials predict the full trail could be completed by 2027. The final cost of the project is projected to be $80 Million. Currently, the city has raised $39 million to fund the construction.
Project Architect Antoine Predock had this to say:
“Beginning with Enchantment Plaza and culminating with that auspicious American crossroads moment at Central Crossing where US Route 66 was joined by the railroad, the Rail Trail reveals layers of the Land of Enchantment. … The intense polychrome graphics on the trail’s surface at each stop along the eight-mile circle tell the story of the neighborhoods, and of Albuquerque, summing up the Land of Enchantment.”
It is at the Central Avenue crossing where US Route 66 is joined by the railroad tracks that Project Architect Antoine Predock wants the city to erect his 25 foot neon tumbleweed.
The Rail Trail has been a major goal of Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s administration. According to Mayor Keller, it will transform our downtown neighborhoods and elevate the way we experience the city. At the unveiling, Keller said he expects the project will become as much of a landmark as the BioPark or the Sandia Peak Tramway. Keller said this:
“This is the pedestrian parkway. It’s meant for recreation. It’s meant for transit. It’s meant for families coming together. It’s meant reuniting neighborhoods that have historically been divided. … This is probably the largest public works undertaking since we literally built the zoo and the tram. … When we pull this off, almost every New Mexican will know about the Rail Trail and will have experiences with it … And, most importantly, be a place that brings us together and unites us. … The Rail Trail will be a defining project for our City and a landmark for future generations. … We’re grateful to the team of architects, and community members, who believe in this vision. Together, we are creating a special place for residents, visitors and families to cherish and enjoy.”
Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency Director Terry Brunner had this to say:
“What we’ve learned from a lot of other cities is when they’re able to rehab their downtowns with a major tourism or amenity or attraction, it really helps drive downtown improvements. … We’re excited to start hopefully with a central crossing which will be an at grade crossing with ramps at Central to eliminate the dangerous underpass that we have for pedestrians. … Potentially Sawmill or that length from Rail Yards all the way up to Lomas [will] probably [be] our first sections. … This project honors Albuquerque’s cultural history while also laying the ground work for its future. … The Rail Trail is an investment that will connect our communities and activate the heart of our city. I tend to think it’s one of the biggest projects that Albuquerque will have had in the last 100 years.”
ONE PERSONS ART VIEWED AS WASTED TAXPAYER MONEY
The entire Albuquerque Rail Trail project has more than a few major critics, especially when it comes to the $80 Million dollar price tag and the extra features that will driving up the cost.
Paul Gessing of the taxpayer watch group Rio Grande Foundation said the cost breakdown is too much. Guessing said this:
“It strikes me as over the top for a bike trail. … Over $10 million per mile is a lot of money for a bike trail. And there’s art, some kind of tumbleweed design, and Antoine Predock, a well-known architect and designer.”
RAIL TRAIL STEERING COMMITTEE: FRIENDS OF THE RAIL TRAIL
The Rail Trail project has a steering committee known as the Friends of the Rail Trail. It is a 14 person committee appointed by the Mayor. Ostensibly the steering committee was involved with the overall project, selection of the architect and final approval of the plans. The members of the steering committee are:
Mayling Armijo, Bernalillo County Economic Development Director
Dale Armstrong, Property Owner
Lola Bird, Downtown Mainstreet
Dennis Gromelski, FUSION
Ed Garcia, Property Owner
Seth Gardenswartz, Property Owner
Johanna Gillian, Homewise
Maria Griego-Raby, Contract Associates
Frank Martinez, Citizens Information Committee of Martineztown
Tim Nisly, Barelas Community Coalition
Jay Rembe, Property Owner
Sgt. Matthew Tinney, Downtown Public Safety District
Laura Trujillo, Valley Area Command Crime Prevention
Kelly Ward, Innovate ABQ
The listing of the Rail Trail steering committee can be found at the end of this link:
Links to quoted news sources are here:
City links to information on Rail Trail:
For more information on the Albuquerque Rail Trail, visit cabq.gov/railtrail.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYIS
By any measure, spending $80 Million dollars on an 8 mile bike trail and pedestrian walkway is a difficult sell to the general public which is the likely reason Mayor Tim Keller and his administration conveniently did not put it on the ballot for voter approval, especially when it comes to a legacy project the Rail Trail represents to Keller. Calling an $80 million bike trail and pedestrian walkway “one of the biggest projects that Albuquerque will have had in the last 100 years” and saying “this is probably the largest public works undertaking since we literally built the zoo and the tram” that will transform the city is laughable and typical of the Keller Public Relations Team and his city hall insiders. Keller and company forget the $125 Million ART bus project Keller completed down the middle of central that has destroyed Route 66 as well as the urban renewal of the1970’s that essentially gutted downtown to its detriment.
POLICE PRESENCE WILL BE CRITICAL FOR USE
Keller’s dream trail could easily become a trail of nightmares. Safety along the trail will be critical to its use. City officials said they are working to have the trail fully lit with street lights and security officers. Given the openness and length of the trail, the entire length of the trail will likely become a magnet for crime. It’s not at all hard to envision panhandling, drug dealing, prostitution solicitation, pick pocketing and purse snatching, shop lifting at the merchandise vendor stations and the homeless camping at the various locations. At a minimum there will be the need for police to patrol the entire length of the trail and to have it closed down at night like a city park and to prevent illegal camping.
RAIL TRAIL STEERING COMMITEE
The city is currently in the process of acquiring properties around the rail trail to use as green space on the trail, including one at Marquette and Commercial. When you look at the 14 members Rail Trail Steering Committee what are found are a number of big name property owners and developers with very little representation of people actually living in the areas of the city that will be affected by the project. One unanswered question is to what extent will the members of the steering committee benefit from the project or if the are selling property to the city for the project?
THAT 25-FOOT NEON TUMBLEWEED
Spending thousands of dollars on a 25-foot neon tumbleweed at the intersection of Route 66 and the railroad as a symbol for a City falls squarely into the category of “What the hell are they thinking?” Frankly, the use of a 24 foot neon tumbleweed is embarrassing for a city known for its Sandia vistas, the International Balloon Fiesta, Route 66, its history and diversity.
A tumbleweed conjures up images of windswept dust and desolation. It conjures up the images of Albuquerque being nothing more than a dusty and dying little town in New Mexico as tumbleweeds, dirt and debris are swept by the winds through the vacant streets of a once vibrant community.
There are so many other symbols that could be and are reflection of the city as a whole and that can even be whimsical at times. Those images include chile ristras, luminarias, images of the tramway, hot air balloons during a balloon glow, a vintage train, a vintage convertible driving down Route 66, images of a cowboy riding a bronco or a buffalo soldier, mariachis playing with dancers, Indian jewelry, pottery and tribal dancers, an adobe pueblo oven (horno), hand-carved and painted wooden santos, bultos, retablos, and crosses and carvings. The comedy and tragedy masks could be used as a symbol of the city’s emerging film production industry, especially at the rail yards where CNM is building a film school. Whimsical images of a “big enchilada”, tamales and tacos and even Bugs Bunny saying “I should have taken a left at Albuquerque” or even Homer Simpson and the Isotopes could be used.
The 25-foot neon tumbleweed is one piece of artwork that needs to be scraped as not a fitting symbol of the city.