Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s administration is voicing confidence that $50 million in federal funding will come their way to help finance the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project. That’s at least what the city’s Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan said Monday evening at a city council meeting. He mentioned that former President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget recommendations include “a $50 million earmark” for the bus rapid transit project and that even though Congress hasn’t approved a budget, the money is still “currently on the legislative docket to be passed.”
ART, now well into construction with torn roads and narrow lanes that hold back traffic in the heart of Central Avenue, is projected to be 10 miles of dedicated lanes in the street for a rapid bus system with 20 stations. The project is slated to be up and running this fall, but it’s drawn controversy among some residents and business owners along the route, who have blamed slow sales on the project’s construction. More controversy came last week when President Donald Trump released his budget recommendations for fiscal year 2018, which freezes all funding for a Federal Transit Administration grant program for local public transportation projects—including ART.
The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday temporarily barred the city from taking any action to build Mayor Richard Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. The move came in response for an emergency order to stay a decision on Friday by a federal court judge to deny ART opponents a preliminary injunction halt ART they had requested. The appellate court in Denver enjoined the city from taking any action on ART until its judges have a chance to fully review a request by the plaintiffs to bar the city from proceeding with ART construction pending their appeal of Friday’s decision by U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales who denied their request for a preliminary injunction. The court ordered the Federal Transit Administration and the city to file their responses to the defendants’ motion by 4 p.m. Tuesday. “The city is specifically directed to include in its response information on the nature and timing of any demolition or construction related to the ART project that is planned between now and the close of business Wednesday,” the appellate court order said.
A federal court judge gave Mayor Richard Berry the green light to begin construction on his $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project down Central Avenue. U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales refused to issue a preliminary injunction against the project as had been requested by ART opponents. Gonzales ruled that the Federal Transit Administration and the city did all the environmental and historical studies as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. The city said it hopes to begin construction on ART next week and that the project should be completed by the fall of 2017. Berry hopes ART will spur billions of dollars in real estate development projects along ART’s 8.75-mile-long corridor.
Mayor Richard Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit project ran into a legal pothole when a state court judge ordered the City Council to – catch this – do its job and give ART opponents a hearing on a procedural, but also substantive, matter regarding the project. In what is a relatively rare legal procedure, Bernalillo County District Judge Victor Lopez issued a Writ of Mandamus to the Council ordering it to obey a city law that requires it to give ART opponents a hearing on the refusal of the city’s Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission to explain why it has refused to explain its decision – or non-decision – in favor or ART. That body has has twice deferred making a decision on a challenge to ART’s design. Under city law, the Landmarks Commission is required to issue findings of fact, or explain why it has deferred a matter. And if the Commission declines to issue those findings of fact, the Council is required to hold a public hearing on the matter.
When it comes to the court of public opinion, Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project down Central Avenue is in big trouble. Only 28 percent of the city’s registered voters support ART, while 79 percent say it should be put to a public vote, according to a poll by Carroll Strategies, an Albuquerque public relations firm. In addition, only 25 percent believe that ART will boost the city’s economy, and only 23 percent said they would use it after it is built.
This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website and is reprinted with permission. The poll also made it clear that pretty much everyone knows about ART. Of the 2,020 people surveyed, 87.5 percent said they were aware of the project, which would put dedicated bus lanes in the middle of Central and mostly reduce automobile traffic to one lane in each direction along a 10-mile stretch of the street.
Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along Central just got a double-dose of bad news. The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has recommended a $19 million cut in funding for project, and the New Mexico Restaurant Association now opposes ART. The Appropriations Committee, in its 2017 budget proposal to the full House, has recommended that the FTA’s Small Starts grant for ART be cut from $69 million to $50 million, according to the committee’s report. In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee has recommended that the FTA’s Small Starts grants – of which ART is just one applicant – total $240.7 million for all 10 projects, about half of the $407.8 million the House wants to spend. The difference in proposed spending will have to be worked out in conference committee negotiations, and those could be months away.
Mayor Richard Berry’s administration said Tuesday that construction on the $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along Central Avenue will begin in late July. The initial construction will take place in the University of New Mexico area between Girard on the east and Cedar on the west, and then in the downtown area from I-25 to 10th Street. The initial ART line will run from Louisiana on the east to Coors on the West Side. The construction team is being led by Bradbury Stamm Construction, and the team “is planning to avoid construction in Nob Hill and Old Town during the holidays and is working closely with event planners to coordinate construction with key events,” the city said in a news release. Whether that construction actually begins will be up to a federal court judge.