Albuquerque grew 36% in population during the 1980s, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the United States during that decade. In contrast, the city’s population grew only 2% from 2010 to 2016.
Growing cities need “beltways.” At least, that’s what some powerful Burqenos argued back in the 1980s. Above we see the idea of an “inner” beltway (“inner” because a larger northwest loop was also in the works, as we’ll see below), one completed via a Gibson Blvd. extension, including a bridge over the Rio Grande connecting at Arenal S.W.
Obviously that Gibson Blvd. extension never, or hasn’t yet, happened, depending on who you talk to. Considering the massive East Barelas/East San Jose/South Broadway opposition to the idea when first discussed way back when, and the environmental and other regulatory considerations in completing such a project today, you might think “never” is probably right.
Still, there are plenty of wary folks, particularly in the part of town that would be affected, who fear political will and external City neglect of local concerns may very well eventually lead to a bridge somewhere south of Cesar Chavez/Bridge Blvd. and north of Rio Bravo Blvd.
This look at roadway history becomes very germane to the current, and long-standing, debate over the Sunport/Woodward extension project, about which there is a public meeting this coming Thursday. Will extending Sunport west of I-25 and connecting it to an improved Woodward make it easy enough for external forces to foist a “Sunport/Woodward Bridge” on a poor part of town subjected to decades of environmental and other injustices?
What we can see looking back is that the City’s planned “inner beltway” hasn’t come to pass in many respects, including the lack of Arenal S.W. being anything like a “beltway road” between Unser and Isleta Boulevards, and nothing yet but talk, decades later, about a Gibson extension east to Eubank or Juan Tabo.
We mentioned a larger loop earlier. Here’s a map of that from 1987, as well as some newspaper copy that bears repeating:
Looking close, you’ll see some quotes from Larry Larranaga, now a New Mexico State Representative from Albuquerque, who has served many roles at both City and State, including that of state highway director and City public works chief. At the time of the story above, Larranaga was “one of the mayor’s (Ken Schultz) top aides.”
For those who don’t want to squint, here’s how Mr. Larranaga is described by reporter Jim Martin in terms of beltways and loops:
“Larranaga sees salvation in a 40-mile-long beltway or loop system that would circulate traffic around the city and help unclog the Big I, where I-40 and I-25 cross.”
It’s fun to consider how Albuquerque and surrounding Bernalillo County would have turned out if Mr. Larranaga’s vision became reality. Who knows, maybe, eventually most or all of it will. We’ll see.
More about Mr. Larranaga’s vision and the history that has spit out the roadway system we find today in coming BB posts.