Alibi V.13 No.22 • May 27-June 2, 2004 

Ortiz y Pino

Making Bad Traffic Worse

Will the city ever get serious about managing growth?

I recently walked a mile in another man's shoes. Or more accurately, I drove 10 miles on Coors Boulevard during rush hour, and must say I have a better appreciation for what Westsiders go through every day.

But if anything, the experience left me more convinced than ever that extending the east-west route of Paseo del Norte through the Petroglyph National Monument will do practically nothing to solve the mammoth traffic jams that characterize north-south running Coors every morning and every afternoon.

My little trek occurred because I had a Friday afternoon meeting at Rio Grande High School in the South Valley which ended about 3 p.m. and I had to get to another meeting at an office in the Journal Center at 3:30 p.m. Piece of cake, I thought, as I sped north on New Coors, heading for the Paseo del Norte river crossing, a choice of route I soon regretted.

At Central Avenue, the glut of cars filling all three lanes of northbound Coors dropped my speed into the 20s ... when we were moving at all. At many intersections it actually took two or even three cycles through the traffic signals to get past. At 3:45 p.m. I finally turned East on Paseo. Just five minutes later I reached Journal Center.

It had taken me 45 minutes to get from Central to Paseo but just five from Coors to Jefferson Street. It seems clear that stretching high speed Paseo access farther west, across the volcanic formation where the Petroglyph National Monument currently blocks it, may benefit persons living out there in future (and a few current) housing developments, but it won't impact at all the jams that occur now on the north-south route.

Those are largely produced by persons living south of Paseo who make their way toward river crossings at Montaño Road, I-40 or Central in the mornings and back in the evenings. They have no options for reaching the crossings. Coors is already essentially a vast parking lot oozing southward in the morning and northward in the afternoon.

What is desperately needed are expanded alternatives to Coors, not stretching Paseo westward, which will simply enable even larger developments to be built out toward the Rio Puerco, developments already approved and awaiting only the slightest encouragement in order to be constructed.

Once those bedroom developments make the leap from drafting table to reality, whatever minimal relief extending Paseo provides will be swamped in a new wave of commuters trekking daily from expanded housing west of the volcanoes to jobs east of the river.

This impression formed as I fought upstream on a Friday afternoon, is corroborated by the recently released Mid-Region Council of Governments report on traffic relief for westside Albuquerque. That report is being used by Paseo proponents to justify their interest in spending the millions in city bond money and still more millions in state money to construct the road through the monument.

In fact what the report demonstrates is that extending Paseo isn't going to help much—but that developing Unser Boulevard as a bona fide north-south alternative to Coors, out west of and beyond the monument, could help significantly.

Unser wouldn't impact the sacred Native American sites in the monument. It would provide genuine relief for Westside commuters. It wouldn't cost as much as extending Paseo. It seems like the far wiser choice.

So why isn't Unser getting the ink and the hoopla that the Paseo extension commands in the media, and hence public, spotlight? Why aren't press conferences being called to wave the banner over Unser's construction? How come it's the red-headed stepchild of Westside community activists?

It almost seems that building Paseo amounts to one of those grandiose adventures, one of those cultural symbols that we are told the human spirit demands, however irrelevant or unnecessary it actually turns out to be. A stainless steel arch over the Mississippi. A rebuilt World Trade Towers project, taller than the original. An astronaut on the Moon. A Tower in Babel. A road through the petroglyphs.

Of course it doesn't hurt that the wealthy proponents who make up the Developmental Sprawl gang are solidly united behind this baby. Why wouldn't they be? Building it will instantly turn hundreds of thousands of acres of creosote bush and barren range scarcely capable of keeping cows alive into valuable cul de sacs and strip malls.

If you love urban sprawl, you'll love the Paseo extension. Just don't kid yourselves, though, that it will do diddley squat about Westside traffic congestion. It can only make a bad situation worse.

The 5-4 City Council vote favoring building the extension was a sad commentary on the future of the Planned Growth Strategy in this community. Or just maybe it will signal a genuine rallying of the troops around a court challenge to its construction. If so, in the future we might look back on the battle over Paseo as the point in history when Albuquerque got serious about how it manages growth.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.