City looks to fix Central underpass flooding

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – While the city expects to shell out about $400,000 to clean up the damage left by Friday night’s flood, the city now could spend even more to fix the Central Avenue underpass, one of the notorious problem spots downtown that keeps on flooding.

The city says the underpass between First Street and Broadway is now at the top of its must fix list, however, it may be a while before anything changes.

No matter how many cars have flooded in the Central Avenue underpass through the years, some drivers still don’t get it.

“We know we do have an issue at the central underpass,” said Michael Riordan, director of Albuquerque’s Municipal Development Department.

Friday night, several drivers got in up to their necks in deep water and had to swim to safety.

Even as firefighters were on scene Friday night trying to block the road after four cars had stalled out in the flooded underpass, KRQE News 13 spotted one driver in a dark blue Mitsubishi SUV that tried to pass firefighters and drive into the flood.

Firefighters were seen throwing a bag at the car then pounded on the windows before the driver stopped to turn around.

Some drivers weren’t so lucky.

“She told me the water was all coming up through the doors, I thought I was going to be able to throw it in reverse, but it didn’t happen,” said one driver whose car sunk to the bottom of the underpass.

City officials say the underpass floods because it’s the last to get pumped to a retaining pond at Lomas and Broadway.

“The first priority is to make sure that the neighborhoods are drained,” said Riordan.

The city hasn’t spent any money on the underpass in the last decade. Instead, the city has plunked $7 million into the retaining pond and bigger drain pipes after a flood in 2006 that ravished Martineztown.

“We want to protect private people’s property first, residential property and then we’ll clear our roadways,” said Riordan.

However, now the city says it has finally had enough of the flooded underpass.

“We just don’t want people driving through there,” said Riordan.

The city has a plan to rebuild the underpass. In May, they applied for a $15-million “Tiger” grant with the federal government to do the project. However, if the city doesn’t get the federal grant, it says it won’t be able to pay for the fixes to this underpass.

In the meantime, the city is focusing on cheaper things to alert drivers at the edges of the underpass.

“We’re going to look at methods of advanced warning,” said Riordan.

That could mean gates, signs and flashing lights near the underpass warning people about high water. It may be a year before that’s installed though. So until then, the city says it will be more proactive.

“As soon as we start getting rain that we’re seeing backing up in to that Central and First is we’re just going to put temporary barricades up and just close off the street,” said Riordan.

If the Feds approve the $15-million grant to rebuild the underpass, the city would have to pitch in about $3 million. Total, the project is estimated to cost about $22 million. The remainder of the funding would likely come from the Mid-Region Council of Government.

Fixing the drainage would be just one component of the project. The main part of it would raise the sidewalks so that people can walk across the railroad tracks.

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