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Know the West

A road through a national monument?



Albuquerque, N.M., is growing so quickly that Petroglyph National Monument, currently on the outskirts of town, is likely to be enveloped by the city in the next 20 years. Some planners want to build a road through the monument, which now divides the west side of Albuquerque from the rest of the city with a 17-mile swath of volcanic rock (HCN, 7/7/97: Petroglyphs and pavement collide). In 1997, the U.S. Congress approved the idea, but for the past four years, Albuquerque's then-mayor, Jim Baca, blocked any planning or funding for the project.

Now, with new leadership at city hall, the road has renewed support. "It's essential to the long-term future of Albuquerque," says the city's new mayor, Martin Chavez. "We would be strangled without it."

But the National Park Service, conservationists, and members of nearby pueblos say the road would destroy the site's cultural integrity, and set a bad precedent for development in other national monuments. They're urging the city to improve existing roads and mass transit instead of building a new road.

"Putting a road in there is like putting a stripe down the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel," says Charles E. Little, co-author of Sacred Lands of Indian America. "For the government to create more sprawl by opening up this area is criminally stupid."

The estimated $78 million project still faces roadblocks; funding for the road needs the approval of city council, which is currently split on the issue.