Forgetting mistakes of the past in the interest of a construction project is what is happening with the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) Bus project that will have an adverse affect on historical areas of the city. The ART bus project reminds me of “urban renewal” when entire residential neighborhoods were condemned to construct the Convention Center and Civic Plaza without a public vote. I also remember the demolition of the historic Alvarado Hotel and the historic Franciscan Hotel, both on Central in downtown Albuquerque. The majestic Franciscan Hotel was torn down for a parking lot.
The Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) bus project is a $120 million dollar construction project that will have a very short term impact on Albuquerque’s economy but will have a long term negative impact on historic Route 66. The ART bus project was never put to a public vote for approval, but instead was crammed down taxpayer’s throats by Mayor Richard Berry and the Albuquerque City Council.
The City insists ART will increase bus usage up and down central. It will not. The overwhelming majority of the demographics the City says it is targeting rely too much on their own vehicles to travel to and from work all over this entire city. A mere ten mile stretch of ART is not going to reduce people’s reliance on their vehicles. The truth is, the City already spent millions on the “Rapid Ride” system up along Central which is just as effective if not more as ART. ART is an expensive and glorified version of Rapid Ride but with a dedicated lane and canopies down the center of historic Route 66. The designed elevated bus stops and canopies do not conform nor fit into and will destroy the historical character of many parts of Route 66.
The ART project is very poorly designed. The construction has destroyed and eliminated the median improvements made in the ten mile stretch. An estimated 300 storefront parking spaces will be eliminated and no left turns will be allowed along the route. ART will significantly increase traffic congestion when there will be only one dedicated lane for traffic in each direction. Emergency vehicle travel will also be seriously impaired because of traffic congestion and the dedicated bus lanes system with elevated bus stops in the middle of the road.
The ART project will destroy thriving businesses especially in the East Downtown (EDO), Hunning Highland and Nob Hill areas. Many businesses have already been force to close because of loss of business caused by ART construction. The Berry Administration has described proposed mitigation efforts to lessen the impact of construction on businesses, including offering “bridge loans”, which are not at all compelling nor convincing. Why would a thriving business want a “loan” to make up for business losses caused by this ill advised City project?
$69 million dollars of funding for ART is suppose to come from a Federal Transportation Grant which the Berry Administration says is a sure thing. During the grant application process, the Berry Administration falsely claimed the project would not be controversial with the public yet 250 businesses along the bus route oppose ART as well as 40 neighborhood associations voicing opposition. Significant public opposition surfaced at 5 public hearings. Two federal lawsuits were filed to stop the project. An environmental impact study was never performed for the project which forms part of the basis of the civil lawsuits.
The United States Congress has yet to vote on the funding allocation and Congressional Committees are proposing major cuts of up to $20 million dollars in the grant. The City Council voted to spend the grant money that has yet to be appropriated by Congress. Any shortfall in the grant will have to come out of the general fund which will in turn affect basic essential services such as police and fire protection.
Mayor Richard Berry and the Albuquerque City Council need to be held accountable come election time for this ill advised and poorly designed project that destroys historic Route 66.