City planners grapple with plan to ease future congestion in central Albuquerque

Posted at: 09/02/2014 6:18 PM
Updated at: 09/02/2014 6:32 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

ALBUQUERQUE -- Thanks to a double-dip recession in New Mexico, Albuquerque's once-rapid growth rate has slowed considerably – but that's bound to turn around at some point. When it does, look out for traffic jams, especially on the metro area's bridges over the Rio Grande.

Urban planners say it's the same old pattern we're used to – east is east and west is west, and when the two converge on a river crossing, it means congestion. The challenge is how to dodge that in the next 20-25 years.

Planners' prediction: West Side Story to continue. More housing is to be built, more people will be moving in, but most jobs will remain on the city's East Side. That means more commuters crossing the river every morning and coming back every night. The solution: more bridges? Planners say no. We already have nine in the metro area, from I-25 in the south to Highway 550 in Bernalillo.

"It doesn't look like more bridges," said Augusta Meyeres of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, the agency whose planners are looking for something new. "This isn't a problem that we can build ourselves out of, unfortunately, just by adding more lanes across the river."

Urban planners think the way to go will be Bus Rapid Transit, interconnected with other transit systems, with lots of park & ride stations.

"Bus Rapid Transit is basically a more modern, convenient type of bus," Meyers said. "It has dedicated lanes so it can merge into traffic, but also get around it when there's any congestion."

The planners know they have to come up with something. They say traffic across the river will increase by 80% over the next 25 years. They say Bus Rapid Transit is still a long way away, and Albuquerque has many critical decisions to make before the system gets the go-ahead. Two big questions – what will it cost, and how will we pay for it? Look for answers in the months, and even years, ahead.