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New Mexico Transit Fight One of Many Route 66 Disputes


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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The fight over Albuquerque's plans for building a rapid transit route along a stretch of historic Route 66 is drawing fierce protest from some residents and business owners along the famed highway.

And it's not the only dispute seen on the Mother Road in recent years. In each case, the tension came as planners in cities where Route 66 passes through struggled over how to revitalize areas along the 2,500-mile path.

"This area is struggling, to begin with. To start that construction...I think that would be a tipping point for many businesses to stay in business."

A coalition of groups in St. Louis is trying to save the famed Route 66 Warren Truss Bridge from demolition by the Missouri Department of Transportation. Activists are trying to raise $1 million by the end of the year to save it from demolition and will need another $5 million to restore it. The bridge has been closed for six years because of its dangerous condition.

Two years ago, residents of a mobile home park Glendora, California fought against the construction of new townhomes and a commercial real estate project on Route 66 because the development would force them to move. Meanwhile, in nearby Pasadena, California, residents and historic preservation activists have signaled alarm against the bulldozing of highway landmarks like once famous diners to give way to new developments.

In 2000, demonstrators in Bridgeport, Oklahoma, stood along old stretches of Route 66 to protest the destruction of the original roadbed for new highway construction. Protesters said the project would destroy a piece of Oklahoma history.

Decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985, Route 66 went through eight states and was once an economic driver for small towns from Illinois to California. As other highways were built and traffic left Route 66 towns, businesses closed and once-popular motels went in disrepair.

The latest fight involves a proposed $119-million project backed by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. The project would build a system of express buses and canopy-covered stations on a stretch of Route 66 that run through downtown Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico.

But the plan is meeting resistance for business owners who say construction would spark traffic congestion and ruin the car culture along the longest Route 66 stretch in an urban area.

"I think it would paralyze the businesses here," said Wallace Anderson, 70, an Albuquerque resident who has organized petitions to help stop the project. "This area is struggling, to begin with. To start that construction...I think that would be a tipping point for many businesses to stay in business."

A federal appeals court on Monday temporarily halted construction work on the Albuquerque project so both sides could present their cases involving a lawsuit aimed at stopping the plan for good.

Keith West, owner of Urban Fresh New Mexico, an organic soap shop off of Route 66, said he understands why construction and change can create anxiety. But he said the project like the Albuquerque one are part of efforts to transform the areas and bring more people to businesses.

"We got to remember we are working on building a community," West said. "The stronger the community is, the stronger your business is going to be."

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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