Foundation Board weighs in on Albuquerque Rapid Transit project

The New Mexico Architectural Foundation board authored the letter below to members of the US Congressional delegation recommending that the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project (ART) be paused in order to further evaluate its impacts to the community.  

Date: July 24, 2016

RE: Albuquerque Rapid Transit/ART – Impact on a National Treasure

Dear Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representative Lujan Grisham:

This letter is in response to the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit/ART project that spans Historic Route 66, or Central Avenue, from Unser to Louisiana Boulevards. Without a doubt, we members of the New Mexico Architectural Foundation – a non-profit group founded 29 years ago to celebrate the best of our fine New Mexico architecture – support a well-designed public transit system. However, we do have concerns about the current design along the Mother Road and would welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you.

Everyone recognizes the importance of the historic fabric of this route through Albuquerque. But how do we use it, and preserve it, so we do not lose an important piece of our identity? Based on the design drawings on the City of Albuquerque’s website we see that the route has many varied road sections. With much of the proposed design showing a single lane of car traffic on each side of the center bus lane and those single car lanes also accommodating the Rt. 66 buses, where will the traffic go when it is backed up (this is in addition to the over 200 eliminated left turning lanes)? Neighborhoods flanking Central Avenue – six of which are designated historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and/or New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties (NMRCP) – will undoubtedly see this bypassing traffic. (The Federal Transportation Agency [FTA] Categorical Exclusion Worksheet on the City website lists 4 historic districts: 4th Ward, Old Town, Huning Highlands, and Aldo Leopold. We have added the Silver Hills and the Monte Vista and College View Historic Districts since they are also adjacent to Central Avenue.) With an increase in vehicular traffic, these communities will become stressed leaving the historic properties less attractive and therefore vulnerable to neglect and even demolition. The same argument can be made for properties along Central Avenue.

The FTA Categorical Exclusion Worksheet, the Cultural Resources Inventory Report, and the Addendum to the Report, all posted on the City website, show that over 125 properties on Central Avenue are currently on, are eligible for, or are presently undetermined for inclusion on the NRHP and/or the NMRCP. (Also stated is that there are over 700 estimated historic properties along the corridor.) Based on our count, fewer than 20 of these properties (including 3 neon signs) are currently listed on the NRHP and/or NMRCP. This leaves over 100 properties directly on the ART route which are most vulnerable to construction changes that compromise their historic integrity thus rendering them ineligible for consideration for register listing. Integral in the appeal of Route 66/Central Avenue are buildings, signs, and markers which date from the road’s period of significance, 1925–1974. Without this fabric, the Mother Road loses its story. Does the City have a plan to notify potentially eligible property owners about this list of properties? Making owners aware of this possibility would help to preserve the history and beauty of this road, so often visited by aficionados from around the world. Additionally, tax credits are available to the owners of registered properties who maintain and preserve those attributes which make their buildings eligible for listing. Just imagine the economic and aesthetic benefit this could bring.

One final question is what the City’s position is about the statement from the Addendum to the Cultural Resources Inventory Report, Section 6, under Route 66 Through the Project Area, which states:

“…While this portion of Route 66 maintains its general historic alignment, the roadway has been widened over time and much of the associated urban development along the roadside is not consistent with the Route 66 period of significance. As a result, Route 66, as an individual property type, through the current project area does not retain enough integrity to convey its historic significance and is recommended not eligible to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). However, much of the associated built environment is eligible to the NRHP and is discussed individually below according to APE.” (APE is the Area of Potential Effect.)

Route 66 has been listed on the NRHP since 1997. Does the City agree with the consultant’s recommendation that Route 66 be made ineligible for the NRHP? If not, what actions will be taken to insure its health and longevity?

This route is clearly an important part of Albuquerque’s, and the country’s, history. By preserving this built environment, the City will keep its memory and identity and stand stronger in the future. Maintaining our historic architecture and cultural landscapes can also play an important part in economic development. For these reasons we ask that you intervene to pause the process in order to further evaluate this important asset in Albuquerque. The community will be all the stronger for taking this step.

Members of The New Mexico Architectural Foundation

After sharing the letter with Foundation members, there was some debate on the topic.  View the comments and feedback received so far > 

Additional project sites: 

We’d like to hear more.  Please share your feedback in the “Tell us what you think” comment box below or on the Mark ART Smart forum.


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