North Albuquerque neighbors share concern on Balloon Fiesta train stop

The city wants to ease traffic during Balloon Fiesta and among their proposals is the idea of building a new Rail Runner at the edge of the park. 

While the city says it’s just an idea they want to look into, the proposal is already generating pushback from neighbors living near the park. 

“This neighborhood’s already given tremendous support to the Balloon Fiesta,” said Greg Jillson, who lives along some of the land that was identified as a location for the potential Balloon Fiesta Park rail spur project. 

Several nearby neighbors are already preparing for a fight with the city over the proposed idea. 

“My first thought is I don’t understand why,” said Pat Hauser, president of the Marie Diers Neighborhood Association. 

The origins of the rail spur proposal lie with Rio Metro, the agency tasked with operating the Rail Runner. In November 2018, Rio Metro renewed a decade-old feasibility study of the rail spur idea, which could potentially shuttle train passengers directly on to the westside of Balloon Fiesta Park. 

Mayor Tim Keller held a news conference late last month, detailing his intentions of improving access to Balloon Fiesta Park. Among an idea of building a new freeway ramp and improving shuttle services to and from the park, the mayor also discussed the idea of the rail spur. 

In speaking about the projects at large, Keller said, “Just given the legislative calendar, now is the time when we need help funding this.” 

By the end of the 2019 Legislative session, lawmakers outlined $7.5 million in capital outlay for “Balloon Fiesta Park Access Improvements.” That funding, which is part of Senate Bill 280, still needs a signature of approval from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. 

In hearing of the potential financial award from the state, some Alameda-area neighbors like Hauser and Jillson are worried that the city is ready to move forward with a rail spur project immediately. 

“There’s been no prior discussion to the neighborhood associations or contact to ask for their input,” said Hauser. 

“We have no idea what they’re thinking until they try to spring it upon us,” said Jillson. 

KRQE News 13 interviewed Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael Friday about the city’s plans. 

“The train and the opportunity to use rail runner, to move people is a real viable solution,” said Rael, who believes the train could carry several thousand passengers directly into Balloon Fiesta Park each morning for Fiesta, if a rail spur became reality. 

However, Rael says a spur is currently not the city’s top priority for capital projects at Balloon Fiesta Park. He says the city is more immediately interested in building a “slip ramp” or a freeway exit to I-25. 

“(The slip ramp project) we already, quite frankly, submitted a letter to the New Mexico Department of Transportation to begin the conversation,” said Rael. 

“That’s an opportunity to do something that is truly impactful,” said Rael. 

As for neighbors’ concerns about the spur, Rael says the city will listen. 

“Give us an opportunity to explore all the alternatives, let us see what makes the most sense,” said Rael. 

“Those evaluations will occur, obviously we want to make sure we’re…taking neighborhood issues in consideration, that we’re looking at where does our money make the most impact,” said Rael.  

While the capital outlay funds for Balloon Fiesta Park, still need the governor’s approval, north Albuquerque neighbors are gathering signatures asking the governor to line-item veto the funding request.

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