Burque city residents came out in force to let the Albuquerque City Council know what they thought about the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus route. Councilors faced a packed, rowdy house at the Monday, March 21 meeting. In the end, the majority of Councilors gave a 7:2 thumbs up for the city to accept a “Small Starts” federal grant of $70 million. Councilors Klarissa Peña (D) and Dan Lewis (R) opposed the project saying it might be best to let the voters decide.
What? How? When?
The ART project is slated for about 10 miles along Central from Coors to Louisiana. The buses will travel in a dedicated lane, down the middle of Central with passengers boarding from center platforms. Most of the route will have at least 6-foot wide sidewalks with curbside landscaping. The entire project is estimated to cost about $119 million. Along with the $70 million grant from the Federal Transit Agency, the city has $31 million in additional federal funding for the project. The remaining $18 million will come from a hodge-podge of general obligation bonds and other city funding sources. The Small Starts grant is specific to this Central project and can not be reallocated to other projects, as some people have urged the Council to do instead. The federal money for the ART project has not been officially approved yet by Congress, but it is part of President Barack Obama’s budget recommendation. The city estimates it will take about 18 months to build the route and will cost about $2 million per year to operate the rapid transit. The ART project is special to Mayor Richard Berry. He has been promoting the idea of rapid transit improvements for years.
A Boondoggle or Not?
Things got a little rough when a couple of folks who insisted on displaying an upside down American flag were escorted out of the Council chambers. Supporters of the project say that the improvements will incite development along Central, link up major employers and make the Central corridor more pedestrian friendly. Opponents say the project will cause small businesses to go under, cause traffic congestion and that other routes should be considered. Public comments were about two to one in opposition of the project. Here are some highlights from those who chose to speak up about ART:
“Let’s be smart with ART.”
“Walking away from free federal money is a tough choice.”
“Speeding cars in Nob Hill have created a hostile pedestrian environment for families; the ART will improve that environment.”
“This is nothing more than a glorified version of Rapid Ride. I urge the Council to defer this, give it more time.”
“This is a project of giving money to bureaucrats and politicians.”
“Get some huévos.”
“This project is a utopian boondoggle.”
“This is too important of a project to be rammed down our throats.”
“The benefits of the ART project go to everyone in the city. Take us into the 21st century!”
I’m Gonna Sue YOU!!
John McCall, a local attorney, took the podium and gave the Council a stern warning that he represents people who oppose the project, and if the Council approves the project then he is going to sue them. He suggested instead that the Council defer the vote and have a conversation about alternative ideas.
“I will sue on behalf of these people right here. Defer the vote and let’s have a conversation,” McCall said to a round of applause.
A study done by the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research says ART could spur gentrification of the neighborhoods along the route. They study says that the ART Central route will run through 15 US Census tracts where the income level is well below the city’s average median income of about $47,000. The report says that as transportation options expand so does the demand for housing, causing prices and rents to increase thereby pushing out the current lower income residents.
Sticky Fingers in Poverty’s Pockets
Apparently, the city administration is considering using some money from the approximately $5 million sitting in the city’s Housing and Economic Development fund to cover the city’s share of the ART’s construction costs. Nearly a dozen neighborhood activists, business owners and residents asked the Council to not use any of these funds for the bus project. This pot of money is called the “pockets of poverty” fund and the money is to be used for certain types of improvements in low income neighborhoods. City of Albuquerque Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan said that some of this money pot could be used to mitigate any construction damages in the low income areas. He assured Councilors that the public process for using those funds will be followed.
City Councilors and administrators made promises to the moon and back regarding the help that will be offered to the small businesses during the construction. Flash cash mobs, pop up bands, marketing through social media, one-on-one meetings with each business and offering creative loans are some of the ideas planned to help mitigate the economic damage during construction.
Later, Bad Bowser
Councilors deferred an amendment to the city’s dangerous dog ordinance titled Angel’s Law until the next meeting. The amendment will allow the city to permanently take, and possibly euthanize, bad tempered dogs which have without provocation and repeatedly killed or caused injury to people or other animals.