ABQ Reports: ART Still a Mess, But There is Hope

May 30, 2018

BY: Dennis Domrzalski, ABQ Reports


The $135 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit remains a mess, but there is a chance that it could start offering limited service in the fall, Mayor Tim Keller said Wednesday.

Federal funding for the project has yet to be approved, and there is no guarantee that it will ever come through, Keller said during an in-depth briefing on ART foe members of the news media. The 60-foot-long articulated electric buses still have numerous problems, have yet to be certified for being durable enough, and the city has decided to go to bid to have other companies build ART buses, Keller said.

“We have our shoulder to the wheel ans [ART] will someday be up and running,” Keller said.

Keller broke down ART’s problems and challenges into four areas: Construction, funding, buses and an implementation plan. Here’s how those four areas look right now:

– Construction. Major construction along ART’s nine-mile route on Central Avenue is finished. But lane striping, installing surveillance cameras on the ART platforms and the installation of better signage for motorists and pedestrians and the synchronization of traffic signals along the route continues.

– Funding. The Federal Transit Administration has yet to approve the $75 million grant for ART that former Mayor Richard Berry’s administration repeatedly said was a done deal. The good news, Keller said, is that Congress has appropriated money for ART and that the decision on whether to fund the project – which with the exception of the buses has already been built and paid for by the city – now rests with FTA officials in Washington, D.C., and the political whims of the nation’s capital.

“It is truly up to the FTA, they can always say no,” Keller said. “This truly is a choice by the FTA.”

Here’s what that means. If the FTA decides against funding the project, the city is out that money because it has already paid for its construction with its own money. That money came from capital projects that are funded by general obligation bonds and include things like street repairs and libraries and parks and stop signs and traffic lights. If the city doesn’t get the $75 million from the FTA, it will have to divert money from future capital projects for streets and parks to fund the capital projects that were raided to pay for ART.

– The buses. The 60-foot, articulated electric buses built by the Chinese company, BYD, continue to be a sort of mechanical and engineering disaster. The city specified in its contract with BYD for 18 ART buses that they needed to get 275 miles per charge. The buses are only getting 180 miles per charge, said Lawrence Rael, the city’s Chief Operating Officer. That means the city would have to order more buses or have a lot more charging stations so the buses can juice up along their routes.

So, BYD has agreed to build three more charging stations, one each at Uptown, Central and Tramway and Central and Unser.

“This is not an ideal situation,” Rael said.

There are more problems with BYD’s buses; they won’t be certified for use until at least early 2019. That’s both good and bad. It’s good because the city isn’t contractually obligated to pay for the buses until they are certified by an independent reviewer. It’s bad because the city can’t get any federal grant money for the buses until they are certified.

But Keller said the city is looking to “divorce” itself from BYD and is in the process of renegotiating its contract with the firm. That could mean that the city keeps only some of the 15 buses that BYD has delivered to the city so far.

– Implementation. Keller said the city explored three options about what to do about ART: Junk it, stick forever with BYD, or divorce BYD and try to take possession of some of its buses.

Junking ART and putting Central back to what it was before construction began would cost $200 million, Keller said.

Sticking with BYD until its buses are certified would mean that the system would not be operational until the winter of 2019, Keller said.


A full six months into his term, and Keller is still dealing with the Albatross Rapid Transit (ART) project.

Keller is hoping ART will be up and running by the end of the year and thinking the city will be getting $75 million from the Feds.

Keller has found former Mayor Berry’s rose colored glasses when he sees the city getting anything from the feds.

If a “divorce” is what Keller really wants, he needs to hire a good lawyer now, file suit and seek damages for breach of contract for all the delays and breach of warranties relating to the buses.

Litigation is why we have a city attorney’s office as well a risk management department that both have had no problem dishing out $62 million dollars in police misconduct and deadly use of force cases.

Deciding to litigate for damages and delays would mean showing a little political backbone.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.