Rail to Trail: Hope, family fun. Reality, another homeless defecation area

By Mick Rich

Jan 12, 2024

From the City of Albuquerque website, Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency/Rail Trail /Design, “Antoine Predock & Associates, in partnership with Pland Collaborative and Wilson & Company, are spearheading the design of the Albuquerque Rail Trail. This team will create a modern and artistic pathway that reflects the culture and history of the land of enchantment. It will transform our downtown neighborhoods and elevate the way we experience our city. 

The Rail Trail is a 7-mile multi-use trail that will connect key destinations in the greater downtown area, while also encouraging economic development, healthy recreation, and cultural expression. Fundamentally, this project balances the utility of a pedestrian parkway with bold, innovative storytelling that makes the Rail Trail a canvas for explaining how we are united in this place.

Predock created an evocative vision for the project that illuminates the essence and enchantment of Albuquerque. We all have a special connection to this place and a reason why we love Albuquerque.

Throughout the length of the trail, there will be distinct zones. 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.””

Phase I: The Money

Washington, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque’s elite Democrats celebrate securing our tax dollars for their dream project, now the Rail to Trail.  Whether the Democrat leaders are in Washington, Santa Fe, or Albuquerque, they always look happy spending our hard-earned tax dollars. 

From the City of Albuquerque website, Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency/Rail Trail / Funding and Costs,” The Rail Trail has secured $39.5M in funding, some of which is set aside for certain sections of the trail… Rough order of magnitude estimates put the total trail costs between $60M – $90M across all sections. Additional funding will likely come from a combination of federal grants, state funds, and City money.”

Sixty to ninety million dollars is a lot for a bike trail. But considering how many homeless camps it will support, it is a bargain for the taxpayer. 

Phase II: The Vision

From the City of Albuquerque website, Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency/Rail Trail /Design, “Predock places 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. The image of a tumbleweed rolling down the road is part of every Burqueño’s experience and is enshrined in pop culture. These plants are fantastic creations that lay down firm roots, keeping moisture in the soil for grasses, before they transform themselves and blow away. The tumbleweed represents our resilience and ability to both be grounded by our roots and move forward.”

I believe the public is well served when artistic considerations are included in the design of public structures. The pedestrian and bike bridge over Tramway Boulevard structure adds to the environment. The Rail Runner’s Santa Fe Station’s pedestrian bridge over I-25 detracts from visitors’ experience of entering the world’s leading art market, Santa Fe. 

Rail Runner Santa Fe Sation Pedestrian Bridge, Gateway to Santa Fe

My brother-in-law (a Senior Bridge Engineer for the Oregon Department of Transportation) and I (once a project engineer for an Oregon bridge builder) discussed the aesthetics of ODOT bridge designs. He informed me that every ODOT bridge engineer attended an art/design course to learn what makes for attractive bridges. Surprisingly, an aesthetically pleasing design costs one to two percent more than a strictly economical design. 

A great public works design is worth the extra one to two percent additional cost.

Phase III: Feeding at the Trough 

Half the trail will be on the existing right of way, meaning half the trail’s land must be purchased. In most states, this process is carefully monitored to ensure insider trading does not drive up the cost of land acquisition. In New Mexico, insider trading is just one of the perks of being in office or friends with those in high places.

Payback time for Big Labor’s support of those elite Democrats in Washington, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.  Any contract exceeding $10,000,000 must be performed by contractors who are signatories to the building trade unions. Thus, every company and worker must be a member of the building trade unions, paying union dues supporting those elite Democrats. 

Phase IV: Congratulations to All Involved.

I am not sure why it is. In Groundbreaking Ceremonies, the politicians encourage the design and construction team members to be present but not in the picture.  However, those same politicians do not want the design and construction team present at the Grand Opening Ceremonies. On one project, all design and construction personnel were barred from the site on the day of the grand opening ceremony. It was hard to imagine that the Governor was concerned that a construction laborer could steal her limelight.

Phase V: Before the Grave Diggers

The Mayor and City Council sold the Albuquerque Rapid Transportation to us as a program that would revitalize Central Avenue from East to West. The architect’s rendering was a means of conveying to us what the future would look like for Central Avenue. The images above provide you with a comparison of what we promised (architect’s rendering) and what was delivered (Google Street images). The homeless seem as invisible to the architects as they are to the Mayor and City Council.

Ridership on the ART and all city buses are down, and the Mayor and City Council have waived bus fares to increase ridership. I would assume ridership among the homeless has increased while ridership of young families has dropped. While commercial development has increased above the street level, street-level businesses are closing. 

Before the Mayor and City Council move forward with Rail to Trail, demand they deliver on the promise of the ART project. A revitalized Central Avenue / Route 66 where young families and professionals feel safe at midnight or noon.

Mick Rich is a civil engineer and patent and copyright holder. His construction company for over forty year-built New Mexico’s communities including a few projects receiving national and international recognition. He was the 2018 Republican Candidate of US Senate and currently author and host of To The Point with Mick Rich.