A balloon fiesta visitor watches balloons inflate on the field while stuck in a line of traffic during a morning mass ascension. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)


Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

There’s no getting around it.

Traffic to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s mass ascensions and balloon glows can be a nightmare. And this year’s 50th Balloon Fiesta bash could generate even more visitors.

Balloon Fiesta officials cite a number of construction projects and changes aimed at expediting arrivals to, and departures from, Balloon Fiesta Park during this year’s event, which runs from Oct. 1-9.

And they offer the following tips: use the park-and-ride buses, ride a bicycle or consider ride share services such as Uber and Lyft. If not, leave early – very early if you plan on driving yourself.

Here are some changes you will see this year:

• More park-and-ride buses. More than 200 buses will be on hand to deliver the service in two waves, providing about 9,500 bus seats per session.

The buses will be available from Hoffmantown Church and Coronado Center on the east side, and Cottonwood Mall on the West Side. Buses will leave for the park between 4:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. Return trips will be available from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. For evening events, buses will leave from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Return trips will be conducted from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Remember to buy tickets online and in advance, they will not be sold at the boarding stations. Tickets purchased online and before midnight for morning sessions, or before noon for afternoon and evening sessions, cost $22 for adults; $20 for seniors age 62 and older; $10 for children age 6-12; and are free for children 5 and younger. Same day tickets will cost a bit more, if available. The cost of a ticket includes admission to Balloon Fiesta Park.

• A new park-and-ride depot has been added near the south entrance to the park, which will service buses coming from Cottonwood Mall on the West Side. Those with more energy and a desire to ride their bicycles can take advantage of the fiesta’s free and secure bicycle valet service, which has been expanded this year to accommodate up to 1,000 bicycles, including a section for electric bikes.

• Ride share services Uber and Lyft will have a drop-off/pick-up location at Alameda and Horizon, just west of Balloon Museum Drive, where a new traffic signal has been installed. Fiesta courtesy shuttles will be available to transport riders between the ride share location and the ticket/admission gates.

• For those who prefer to drive and park, a parking fee of $20, cash only, will be collected. But instead of attendants taking the money as cars snake into the park on the feeder roads, which slows and backs up traffic, the parking fees will be collected by attendants in the respective lots.

• A frequent situation facing those who drive to the park, particularly when it’s dark outside, is losing track of where they parked when it’s time to leave. Parking lots are now designated with signs containing the color coded names and images of Looney Tunes characters, including Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner or Wile E. Coyote. Once inside the park, signs at entrance and exit points will display quick response, or “QR” codes, that visitors can download to receive walking instructions back to the lot where they parked.

• Traffic exiting Balloon Fiesta Park via Balloon Fiesta Parkway at the north end of the launch field will now find a more efficient route onto southbound I-25 via the construction of a permanent ramp at Pasadena NE. Previously, police detoured drivers to head north on the southbound frontage road, where they would exit at Tramway and make a U-turn to get onto I-25 south.

• There will be better access to a city-owned parking lot at the north end of Balloon Fiesta Park and adjacent to Sandia Pueblo, the result of a new road off Balloon Fiesta Parkway. The lot can accommodate about 500 vehicles. Fiesta courtesy shuttles will help those who need assistance traversing the distance between the lot and the park.