Legal Issues Plague ART
A federal judge ordered the Water Authority to restore medians removed during last week's construction. While moving waterlines along Central, the Authority also removed the medians above ground in preparation for the city's $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) plans to build a dedicated bus lane following Central from Coors to Louisiana. In a press release, the Water Authority stated that according to its franchise agreement with the city, it is required to “relocate water and sewer lines that come into conflict with City projects (such as ART).” The release also states that no “large-scale sewer relocation” is needed, and that many of the lines are more than 50 years old and need to be replaced anyway.
The judge ruled that these street-level changes made by the Water Authority constitute an initiation of construction for the transit project—which the city promised would be held off until July—and would have to be reversed while two lawsuits seeking to halt the project are still pending. Water Authority crews began rebuilding the medians, which will have to be torn down again if the city wins in the proceedings and goes ahead as planned for the summer.
One suit the city faces, filed last month by a number of small businesses and residents, is on the state level and alleges ART's impact to “over 150 places on the National Historic Register” wasn't properly analyzed. The suit calls for a full review of historic landmarks along the project's route and claims the city's initial conclusion that the transit system would have no negative effect on them was made too quickly. It also claims the plan will interfere with the regular functioning of existing businesses in the area and will negatively affect their abilities to function.
The other lawsuit, filed in US District Court by lawyers for the Coalition to Make ART Smart and other plaintiffs, is on the federal level and holds more serious accusations, claiming the city lied when it requested an exemption from the Federal Transit Administration for required environmental footprint assessment. The assessment would have looked at traffic congestion, traffic flow and local impact of the project, but the FTA approved the exemption when the city turned in an application that claimed the project was not, “likely to generate intense public discussion, concern, or controversy,” even limited to a “relatively small subset of the community.” City transit spokesman Rick DeReyes denies the allegation, saying there was “no indication of negativity” at the time in late July last year. Opposition did exist, however, as evidenced by letters delivered to the mayor's office and city Councilors signed by 35 local property owners representing 55 properties which expressed opposition to the plan.
The federal suit also accuses the city of violating the National Historic Preservation Act (the same as the state-level suit), violating the Prehistoric and Historic Sites Preservation Act and violating the city’s own “Complete Streets Ordinance,” which requires “streets that are designed and built to efficiently serve all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders and motorists.”
Until a federal judge decides in July whether or not these allegations have merit, ART will have to wait on breaking any ground.