On June 8, 2021, the City of Albuquerque filed a $12. 5 million lawsuit, $2.5 million for compensatory damaged and $10 million for punitive damages. The lawsuit was filed in the 2nd Judicial District Court. The basis of the lawsuit relates to light fixtures, weighing 25 pounds each, installed along the Central Ave ART Bus route, that are falling to the ground endangering the public safety. There are an amazing 1,047 Central Avenue streetlights from Louisiana to Coors. Installation of the lights were completed by December 2017.
The city named as Defendants the California-based Environmental Lighting for Architecture Inc., (ELA), the manufacture of the lights, and 6 other firms, including New Mexico based Bradbury Stamm Construction, the general contractor for ART, Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, the architectural subconsultant for the project and Dalkia Energy Solutions, Massachusetts firm hired to convert the city’s streetlights to LED lighting
According to the lawsuit allegations, it was in March when the problems with the lighting fixtures were discovered by a private company under contract with the city. The contractor found 7 missing light fixtures on Central Avenue with light fixtures having completely fallen off the light poles.
The civil complaint filed alleges at least 46 streetlights detached from the poles and had “either fallen to the ground or required removal because they were only being held in place by electrical wiring. ” The civil complaint alleges in part:
“The falling light fixtures create an immediate threat to the safety of pedestrians and drivers utilizing the roadways. ”
The civil complaint alleges that a report prepared for the city found that ill-fitting screws and other parts provided by the manufacturer “allowed the fixtures to move and wear out, causing the lights to work loose from the poles and falling.”
According to the lawsuit, in December, 2020, the city used ELA’s safety mechanism to secure about 1,700 streetlights, including those installed as part of the ART project. The city also directed a contractor to replace 45 failed light fixtures. The city wound up paying a total of $494,000 for the replacements and the retrofitting on new light fixtures that should have lasted decades.
City officials say they are unaware of any injuries associated with the falling lights. Municipal Development spokesman Johnny Chandler had this to say when the city found out about the lighting fixtures:
“We immediately started fixing the problem, whether that includes retrofitting or getting new fixtures. … We will retrofit the fixtures when acceptable, and completely change the fixtures if needed”.
NAMED DEFENDANTS REACT
The Albuquerque Journal contacted representatives of the named Defendants for comment.
Scott Jones, president of ELA, in a written statement issued Wednesday, June 16, Jones said:
“[The firm] has reached out to the city and offered assistance and hope that a swift and amicable solution can be found. … It should be noted that the lighting fixtures are not original ELA Lighting Company’s products, but rather ELA lighting fixtures that were modified by an outside source against ELA’s recommendations.”
Kendal Giles, the Chief Operations Officer for Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, said his firm did not belong in the suit as a named party because it had no part in the selection or installation of the streetlights and his firm’s role was limited to ART platforms.
Officials with Bradbury Stamm Construction, the general contractor, did not respond to inquiries.
Dalkia Energy Solutions, the Massachusetts firm hired to convert the city’s streetlights to LED lighting did not immediately respond to inquiries.
The link to the full Journal article with the quots is here:
HISTORY OF DISATEROUS PROJECT
The ART Bus Project was billed as a project that would transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations. The final price tag for the project came to $135 million when adding associated utility and road work. Mayor Berry called his cheesy 9-mile bus project “world class” project when he decided to go forward with the project.
Once construction on the project started, many businesses along central were force to close never to open again. By 2016, the ART Bus project generated opposition, at times very hostile, from Central Avenue businesses who said the project choked off traffic and restricted access to businesses. A federal lawsuit was also filed in an attempt to stop the project, but the court dismissed the case after a daylong hearing on a permanent injunction.
The city commenced ART bus service in November 2019 using 20 diesel-powered buses, but in 2020, the bus service was suspended for a period of time because of the Covid Pandemic.
FAULTY ELECTRIC BUSES
When the ART Bus project was first promoted, a significant amount of public relations was used to get the public’s support of the project saying that electric buses would be used to cut down on noise and pollution and rejecting the use of diesel buses. The public relations campaign failed resulting in hostility for the project.
Electric buses were initially purchased but the city purchased seriously defective buses.
Among the biggest problems with the electric buses were:
The buses could not be charged because the charging system did not work properly.
The battery cages that housed the bus batteries are started to crack and separate.
Fully charged batteries on the buses were supposed to last for 275 miles, but the testing the city did revealed the charge was only good for 200 miles.
Axles on the buses leaked oil.
The buses did not go through the certification process required in order for the city to be reimbursed for the buses by the federal government.
A third-party certification officer would not certify the chargers that have been installed.
Restraint belts used to keep wheelchairs locked in place were in different locations in almost all the buses.
KELLER FILES LAW SUIT FILED OVER BUSES ONLY TO BACKDOWN
In 2018, the city rejected all of the electric buses delivered by manufacturer BYD Motors and demanded to return them. Mayor Keller with great bravado and a press conferencer ordered the filing of a breach of contract lawsuit against the bus manufacture. Keller said in part:
“We’re no longer going to be guinea pigs [for the bus manufacturer] anymore … Obviously, we very concerned about what we’ve been put through as a city … I think down the road, we’re interested in being fairly compensated for what we have been misled on these buses.”
The city settled the lawsuit with BYD that terminated the city’s obligation to buy $22 million worth of buses from BYD. Keller settled the case with a mutual dismissal of claims. Absolutely no damages were paid to the city by the bus manufacturer for the city being “guinea pigs” as Keller alleged even for the loss revenue to the city for the delay.
BUS STOP PLATFORMS DEFECTS
The problems with ART were not just with the electric buses and included the bus stop platforms and the overall design of the bus route.
There were problems with inconsistent heights on some of the bus stop platforms, which created problems for wheelchair access.
Two of the bus stations were not in the proper distance between the intersection and the actual platforms. One platform is so close to the intersection that a bus coming from the east side going west can’t make the approach.
“PIN CURBS” AND RED PAINT TO FIX POORLY DESIGNED BUS ROUTE
Since starting service November 30, 2019, the ART buses have had accident after accident and upwards of 25 major accidents and upwards of 30 minor accidents signaling a poorly designed project down the very middle of central.
The ART Bus was temporarily suspended as a result of the corona virus pandemic. During the temporary closure of the bus line, the Keller Administration began spending in January, 2021 over $200,000 more to construct “pin curbs” which are concrete edging to form barriers to boundaries for the dedicated bus lanes to prevent vehicles from traveling into the dedicated lanes.
On Tuesday, May 25, 2021, the Keller Administration continued with efforts to try and make the disastrous and poorly designed ART Bus along central more user friendly, this time with red paint. City maintenance crews began to paint ART Bus lanes with a bright red. The red painting is in areas along Central Avenue to signal the areas where busses go in either direction in one lane so as to make it easier for other drivers to avoid driving head on into the buses. The central blocks in east downtown, west downtown and the area in front of UNM were painted.
The city’s Transit Department Director Danny Holcomb said the red lanes had to get federally approved before the work could begin and he said:
“This is the same funding we got for the entire ART project. … We had some money left over, and we wanted to do as many safety improvements as we can. … We’re moving the stop bars back a little bit on the intersection so if you’re on a lane next to a bus, you can actually see the bus next to you while you’re making your left turn or u-turn.”
PLUMENTING BUS RIDERSHIP
On March 2, 2021, the City of Albuquerque released the biennial progress report for 2020. It’s a summary of progress across eight major goals set by the city council, compiled by the Indicators Progress Commission (IPC). According to the polling under Infrastructure, the city’s bus ridership per capita is less than 1% and is reported to be an extremely disappointing 0.20% for the integrated transportation system.
The city’s Transit Department provides fixed routes in the form of ABQ Ride and the rapid transit (ART) bus service and Para-Transit (SunVan) service for the mobility impaired population.
The fiscal year 2022 approved budget for the Transit Department Operating Fund is $49 million, an increase of $1.7 million or 3.5% above the Fiscal year original budget. The transit department employs 574 full time employees. In 2020, the ART bus line was reported to have a total of 814,295 boarding’s for the entire year, Rapid ride had 152,381 total boarding for the year and commuter total boarding were 98,000.
Pages 161 to 164, City of Albuquerque budget:
Historically, city bus ridership has plummeted dramatically.
According to one report, the 2020 bus boarding’s were down a whopping 43% over previous year or 3.9 million fewer boarding’s. Boarding’s were down by 61% since 2012 peak which is 7.9 million fewer boarding. While ridership plunged, the Transit Department’s budget increased by 28%
In the hopes of increasing bus ridership, the Keller Administration announced that all bus service in the city will be FREE OF CHARGE when the new budget cycle commences on July 1.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Tim Keller was elected New Mexico State Auditor in 2014 and began running for Mayor in 2016. As State Auditor, Keller he made a name for himself saying he fought “waste, fraud and abuse” and never missed an opportunity to call it out and to investigate garnering headlines. ART was the exception for Keller and he declined to look into the project for “waste, fraud and abuse” as State Auditor. The ART bus project was built in 2016–17. ART began limited operation in November, 2017 the same month Keller was elected, but was subsequently delayed by Keller for over two years due to problems with the stations and buses. After the original fleet of electric buses was replaced by Keller with diesel buses, the line began regular service on November 30, 2019, a full two years after he was elected Mayor.
In 2017, then New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller and candidate for Mayor, took absolutely no position on the controversial ART Project. Forums were held in city council districts that were going to be affected by ART. Keller avoided attending any of the city’s public forums to listen to public input. Keller also failed to attend the federal court hearing on the action filed for injunctive relief.
As a candidate for Mayor, Keller showed absolutely no curiosity about the ART project and steered clear of making comments and taking a position if the project should have been stopped. This coming from a State Auditor who made a reputation as a white knight to combat “waste, fraud and abuse” of taxpayer money, which is exactly what describes the ART Bus project.
No doubt Keller was afraid to oppose the ART Bus Project from the get go because it would have likely alienated his progressive base of supporters who are “mass transit” and city bus service supporters.
On January 9, 2018, a little more than a month after being sworn into to office as Mayor, Tim Keller said in a news conference about the ART Bus project:
“The problems are much worse than I think anyone believed. … This project is a bit of a lemon”.
Keller’s comments and observations are some of the biggest understatements in the city’s history summarizing a city construction boondoggle costing $135,000,000.
In June 2021, Keller’s “bit of a lemon” has now become a rotting lemon in the 100 + degree Albuquerque sun.
KELLER’S FAILED LEADERSHIP ON ART PROJECT
In 2017, Democrat Mayor Keller was elected in a landslide run off in part by advocating major changes in policy and rejection of the former Republican Mayor’s policies. Instead, what the city got was a Democrat Mayor who adopted many of the policies and projects started by Republican Mayor Richard Berry, including the signature legacy project known as ART.
All of this could have been prevented. Mayor Keller has only himself to blame. Instead of abandoning the ART bus project, Keller made the deliberate decision to finish the ART Bus Project thinking he could make it work. Simply put, the ART Bus is a failure and has destroyed historical Rout 66.
Keller has now spent most of his 4-year term to first complete the ART Bus project and trying to make it work. Keller is now hoping for another 4 years to make the ART Bus project work and all we will get is a bunch of empty buses going up and down Central Avenue.
Berry’s Boondoggle is Keller’s Crisis Project that has now destroyed historic Route 66. Keller has only himself to blame for his failed leadership.
Too bad. It did not have to be this way and ART could have been prevented with a little leadership. All Tim Keller had to do is to follow his own policy he established as State Treasurer to “combat waste, fraud and abuse” on a $135 million project that has now destroyed so many business on Central Avenue as well as historic Rout 66.
A link listing blog article on the ART Bus project can be found here: