Last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham described a plan to build the $40 million Albuquerque Rail Trail as the best kind of infrastructure spending.
While that’s debatable — too many New Mexicans still lack access to basic needs like electricity, clean water and safe bridges — the governor makes a good point. Creating infrastructure that improves quality of life is an investment in the city’s future. Done right, the project could positively impact businesses, neighborhoods and tourism and spur millions in private-sector investments. It’s also the kind of amenity young people are looking for, so it could play a role in workforce development.
The vision is to connect the historic Albuquerque Rail Yards to Downtown, Sawmill District and Old Town and “transform Downtown’s rail corridor into a vibrant and artistic urban trail that creates opportunities for economic development, healthy recreation and culture expression.”
Indeed, looking at an artist’s rendering of the trail, it’s easy to get excited about the potential. It would have shade, parklets and art. The Bosque Trail, with its ample shade and opportunities to see points of interest along the way — Tingley Beach, Rio Grande Valley State Park, Rio Grande Nature Center, the BioPark and the National Hispanic Cultural Center — offers a template for success.
The Rail Trail already has some built-in amenities of its own. Imagined to run from the Rail Yards in Barelas to Lomas Boulevard, then along a railroad spur and eventually into Old Town, it already has Old Town and the Sawmill District as prime destinations for residents and visitors alike. If the Rail Yards can become something hip and fun year-round, there will be anchors on both ends. And while a trail on its own isn’t a difference-maker, it could be the catalyst. It will need to have cool stuff to see and experience, especially in this industrial core, plus good eats nearby to become an attraction (and so private-sector buy-in is essential). But none of the ancillary stuff happens without the trail first, so kudos to Mayor Tim Keller, the City Council, city staff and the governor for laying the groundwork and cobbling together $25 million so far for a potentially transformational project.
But first and foremost, people need to feel safe, especially on a trail that runs through part of our beleaguered Downtown and past areas known for multiple unsanctioned encampments. Making this investment viable means a strong, visible commitment to addressing the crime and homelessness that plague the area. Without that, the Rail Trail will be a $40 million path not taken.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.