Even though the money still has to be approved by Congress, Albuquerque leaders and urban transit enthusiasts are celebrating the news that some $69 million has been included in President Obama’s 2017 budget for the construction of the nine-mile Albuquerque Rapid Transit corridor.
REPRESENTATION OF AN ART STOP ON CENTRAL AVENUE, BY DEKKER/PERICH/SABATINI ARCHITECTS
The money will specifically come through the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts initiative designed to fund a variety of bus corridor improvement projects nationally.
“There’s a 99 percent chance that this money is going to come through,” says Dan Majewski, “and the reason I say that is that there are a lot of things in Obama’s budget that are no-goes, like things that come from his administration and not necessarily from Congress.”
But, continues Majewski, an urban planner who is co-chair of Urban ABQ, “the reason this project looks like a sure thing is that it is embedded on so many different levels—it’s gone through years and years of planning. It is embedded at the city level, the state level and the federal level by a variety of different agencies, which is why so many people are confident that this is going to happen.”
Engendering no small amount of local controversy, the Albuquerque rapid transit project would see the creation of dedicated bus lanes and the construction of a series of canopy-covered median stations along busy Central Avenue.
As planned, the stations will be strategically placed every one-quarter to one-half mile.
REPRESENTATION OF AN ART STOP IN DOWNTOWN ALBUQUERQUE, BY DEKKER/PERICH/SABATINI ARCHITECTS
The project, known as ART (Albuquerque Rapid Transit), would greatly increase bus service and reduce time spent by commuters, owing to a system allowing the buses to communicate with Central Avenue traffic signals in order to reduce the number of red lights.
As originally proposed by Mayor Richard Berry, the new system would spur development up and down Central Avenue, which is part of historic Route 66, in ways that have been seen with new building and development in other cities, such as Phoenix, that have also embraced similarly ambitious transit projects.
But business owners in Nob Hill, bordered by Washington Street and Girard Boulevard, aren’t so sure.
“It’s a very heated issue, that’s for sure,” says Carolyn Chavez, the executive director of Nob Hill Main Street. Nob Hill Main Street is a part of the larger New Mexico Main Street program, and it has not taken an official stand on the project.
“There is a very vocal group that is against the project, but also a lot of merchants who are for it,” reports Chavez.
“Then there is a third group of people who are hopeful for the outcome but really concerned about the construction process,” says Chavez.
In fact, Nob Hill merchants say they aren’t just worried about the impact the project will have on their businesses during the construction phase, which is expected to last from this May to the late summer of 2017. They also don’t like what they think could happen once that construction is finished.
“In every way, this project is the incorrect solution for the wrong street,” says Steve Schroeder, who is the owner of Nob Hill Music at 3419 Central Avenue NE and the founder of SaveRt66.org, which is dedicated to stopping the project.
“What happens when you do something like this is you end up creating havoc for businesses, tourism, and customers in the area,” says Schroder, noting that the current two traffic lanes traveling in both directions on Central would be reduced to one.
“Try to imagine one lane of traffic on Nob Hill,” continues Schroeder, pointing out the tourism value of Route 66. “Around 30 percent of my business is from people who don’t even live in Albuquerque, and I know of restaurants here where it’s as high as 40 percent.”
“This means that there’s going to be a drastic cut in tourism in this area, and when you do that, businesses are going to get hurt,” adds Schroeder.
If Congress approves the $69 million for the project, which is part of a larger Obama budget this year of $14.6 billion, at least $50 million more will have to be secured due to subsequent changes to the project’s original design, including landscaping, more traffic signals, and improved sidewalks.
“Those changes are designed to mitigate some of the concerns that were raised by the neighborhood associations,” says Majewski, “and they are really good changes that are going to contribute to the success of the project. But it means that the city somehow has to find a lot more money.”
Some $5.4 million in matching funds will be coming from the City of Albuquerque, as well as $13 million in bond money approved by the City Council. The rest of the money, according to city officials, will most likely come from federal sources.
By Garry Boulard
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