Not long ago, city leaders thought the proposed Albuquerque Rail Trail was headed nowhere.
Mayor Tim Keller said his administration did not have a clear cut way to fund a new pedestrian-friendly path linking the historic Albuquerque Rail Yards to the heart of Downtown, the Sawmill District and Old Town despite his conviction that it was a worthwhile endeavor that could become the city’s next iconic landmark.
“Two months ago,” Keller said Wednesday during a news conference, “this was the best project we ever thought of that was never gonna happen.”
But a pair of recent investments mean there is now enough money available to complete the first phase of the trail. That includes $10 million from a $100 million infrastructure bond package the City Council approved in June, and a $10 million state contribution that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Wednesday.
The city also has a pending request for federal funding, one the governor said she thinks has a good chance of fulfillment.
“Are we premature in celebrating (this project)?” Lujan Grisham said during the news conference at the Rail Yards. “No, we are not.”
A framework plan released earlier this year calls the Rail Trail “a localized and convenient multi-modal connection across Downtown.”
The vision, according to the plan, is to connect communities and “transform Downtown’s rail corridor into a vibrant and artistic urban trail that creates opportunities for economic development, healthy recreation and culture expression.” It would have shade, parklets and art.
Including money the city already had for the redevelopment project, officials say they now have $25 million in total available funding. That should cover about a mile of development near the railroad tracks from the Rail Yards in Barelas to Lomas Boulevard. That would include an at-grade pedestrian crossing above Central Avenue.
The second and third phases would develop the trail along a railroad spur and into Old Town, which would bring the total estimated cost to about $40 million.
The city has a pending request for federal assistance with the Central crossing; if the grant comes through, it should be enough to cover the first three phases, according to Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael.
Potential future phases would connect Old Town to the Albuquerque BioPark’s botanic garden and aquarium, where the trail would meet the existing Bosque Trail. Users could then take the Bosque Trail to the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and the city may one day finish the loop by creating a trail from the center to the Rail Yards.
Lujan Grisham said the project represents the best kind of infrastructure spending. She said it could positively impact businesses, neighborhoods and tourism and could prompt millions more in additional investments along the corridor.
“I’m going to tell you we’re going to need that as we reimagine the state, starting with reimagining Albuquerque,” she said. “Because we never lost sight of its potential.”