UNM researcher hopes to solve Balloon Fiesta traffic tribulations

Balloon Fiesta is Albuquerque’s most popular event, and it’s also one of the most congested. 

A University of New Mexico researcher says last fall’s traffic tribulations inspired him to come up with a solution, so visitors leave with a better impression of Albuquerque. 

The traffic during Balloon Fiesta 2018 left a bad taste in the mouths of tourists and locals. 

“It’s been an absolute nightmare, and I feel the city after all of these years should have planned something a lot better to accommodate all of our people coming from out of state,” said Mike Gonzales of Albuquerque. 

If visitors weren’t stuck in a line of cars on the freeway, they were standing in line waiting to get on a bus at the Park and Ride, plenty of them missing opening day altogether. 

“Last year I think we saw how the Balloon Fiesta, in many ways, has become a victim of its own success,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

Since then, the city has been brainstorming a number of ways to alleviate some of the congestion, including a spur line from the Rail Runner track, to the west side of Balloon Fiesta Park; and an on-ramp to I-25 that would make access to the park easier. 

“The park itself is surrounded by mostly private land, so that’s why the solutions have to be a little bit creative,” said Mayor Keller. 

Now, a researcher at UNM is working with a team of professors and students to solve the issue. 

“Last fall I took a look at some of the media reports and I gave them a call, and said, ‘Is there something we can do to help you?'” said Claude Morelli, a researcher at UNM’s Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering’s program.

Morelli says they’re evaluating everything from traffic control to how quickly busses are getting to and from the park. 

“One of the big things I’ve seen is that police can be helping a lot better to get those buses to and from the park,” said Morelli. 

He says he and his team will submit their suggestions to the Balloon Fiesta by May. 

Morelli says the research is being sponsored by Balloon Fiesta. He says they’re paying $65,000; about half of that is going towards buying data. 

Once the research is complete, Balloon Fiesta officials will decide whether to pursue the solutions suggested by Morelli’s team. 

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