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Updated: Low Riders vs. ART

Updated: Low Riders vs. ART

'The whole project is not innovative at all. Here we are putting in a 30-year-old diesel bus system. Can we not be more innovative than that?' - Carol Wight, New Mexico Restaurant Association

Now Car Clubs Join the Anti-ART Fight

Restaurants Have Already Signed on Against the Bus Project

(UPDATED TO CORRECT TIMES)

A coalition of car clubs plans to drive most of the length of Central this Saturday in classic cars and low-riders and carrying signs expressing opposition against ART.

The owner of the Central Avenue icon, the Frontier Restaurant, has joined the opposition.

“This bus will choke the small businesses by making parking more scarce, traffic worse, and making it more difficult to get around by reserving two lanes for bus traffic and eliminating more than 200 left-turn lanes,” said Larry Rainosek, the Frontier’s owner.

“We’re hoping for 200 cars, but we may get 20 or we may get 200,” said Craig Vencill, an organizer of the event.

The protest will start on the West Side at the Western View Diner, 6411 Central Ave. NW, and proceed to the El Mercado Shopping Center at Central and San Pedro.  Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. The protest procession will begin at 9:30 a.m. and culminate in a car show and gathering in the Mercado’s parking lot that will last until 2 p.m.

(The following story was posted Wednesday)

ART Suffers Setbacks in ABQ and Washington

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along Central just got a double-dose of bad news.

The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has recommended a $19 million cut in funding for project, and the New Mexico Restaurant Association now opposes ART.

The Appropriations Committee, in its 2017 budget proposal to the full House, has recommended that the FTA’s Small Starts grant for ART be cut from $69 million to $50 million, according to the committee’s report.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee has recommended that the FTA’s Small Starts grants – of which ART is just one applicant – total $240.7 million for all 10 projects, about half of the $407.8 million the House wants to spend. The difference in proposed spending will have to be worked out in conference committee negotiations, and those could be months away.

The House-Senate compromise could lead to a funding cut for ART in excess of $19 million.

While a cut of $19 million wouldn’t necessarily be fatal to ART – additional funding could be forthcoming in future years – a cut could delay it, or reduce its size from the proposed 10-mile route.

ART spokeswoman Joanie Griffin, CEO of the Griffin & Associations public relations firm, said ART is funded for $69 million in President Obama’s proposed budget. That’s true, but it’s Congress, and not the President, that actually appropriates federal money.

“We are confident in the ABQ Rapid Transit project and that we will get the full $69 million Small Starts grant that is currently in the President’s budget,” Griffin said. “The remainder of the money for the project comes from other federal money and local matching funds. What Congress is doing is part of the normal budget process. The budget process will not be completed until after the [November] election.”

More opponents

Another hammer blow to ART came on June 28 from the New Mexico Restaurant Association, which said it opposes the project that would have dedicated ART bus lanes down the middle of Central and generally reduce general vehicular traffic to one lane in each direction between Louisiana on the east and Coors on the west.

“We have hundreds of members on Central and all of them we have talked to are against this and have asked us to come out against it,” Carol Wight, the association’s CEO, told ABQ Free Press. “They are not against doing something on Central; they are against the mayor’s proposal.”

Wight said the NMRA would support the legal battle that an anti-ART group, Make ART Smart, is waging in federal court. The group has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop ART until, at a minimum, the FTA orders the city to study its environmental impact along the route.

“We have decided to support the Make ART Smart legal battle, and basically it is for our members,” Wight said. “It is always very difficult for brick-and-mortar businesses like restaurants; they lose significant amounts of traffic and business during any kind of construction, but to double that, they will be losing left-hand turn lanes into their businesses.” ART’s bus platforms in Central’s medians would eliminate 240 left-turn lanes.

Wight said that ART construction, which the city had hoped to complete by late next year, could kill the budding signs of economic development along Central.

“We have these little economic development areas that are working for us now, and we are going to smother them with construction and no access,” Wight said. “And the whole project is not innovative at all. Here we are putting in a 30-year-old diesel bus system. Can we not be more innovative than that?”

Legal battle

A federal court judge has scheduled a two-day hearing July 27-28 for arguments for ART opponents’ requested injunction to halt the project.

Attorney Yolanda Gallegos, who represents the plaintiffs in one of the two federal lawsuits challenging ART, said city officials have yet to receive permission from the FTA to spend any of the grant money – money that Congress has yet to appropriate.

The city can’t spend that Small Starts grant until it gets a “Letter of no Prejudice” from the FTA. The city applied for the letter in May, but has yet to get it, Gallegos said.

The court case centers on allegations that the FTA improperly granted the city an exemption, or categorical exclusion, from having to do an environment study on ART’s impact. The FTA approved the exemption seven business days after receiving the city’s 1,800-page application.

“The FTA has a legal obligation to re-evaluate the granting of that exclusion before it issues what is called a ‘Letter of no Prejudice,’” Gallegos said. “The city applied for this letter in early May, and here we are at the end of June and they have not received it yet. The city’s claim that this [ART] is a done deal is just not the case.”

Ridership down

In the midst of the battle over the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project, bus ridership continues to decline. During the first four months of 2016, city bus boardings totaled 3.7 million, down from nearly 4 million for the same period in 2015 – a 7.5 percent decline – according to figures city transit officials have given the FTA. Boardings in 2015 totaled 11.6 million, which was a 10 percent reduction from the 12.9 million in 2014. ABQ Ride spokesman Rick De Reyes said he would have to review the FTA’s numbers before commenting.

Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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6 Comments

  • Norman
    June 28, 2016, 1:07 pm

    Where is the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce? Teri Cole are you listening? Probably not. Almost all of the New Mexico Restaurant members are also members of the Chamber of Commerce. is it time to kick Teri Cole out of her comfy position? If she continues to side with Berry on BART she needs to be fired!

    REPLY
  • Maria Bautista
    June 28, 2016, 1:29 pm

    It is always unfortunate when elected representatives, ., in this case Mayor Berry and the Albuquerque City Council, disregard their constituents concerns. CABQ does not listen, not listening earned us a Federally Mandated Consent Decree, Not listening earned us a DOJ investigation at UNM, not listening earned us a constituency, …that finally said, "enough is enough…"

    REPLY
  • Jordan
    June 28, 2016, 2:38 pm

    Already boycotting all the Central Avenue Businesses against ART! Hopefully they all close down and are replaced with businesses that are actually pro-city, pro-transit, and pro-environment. Can’t wait to see who else me and my friends need to stop patronizing to give them a call. I’m so sick of this, get these elitist, poor-hating and progress destroying idiots out of the city. We need to fight back with our wallets until they’re bled dry!

    REPLY
    • Tony@Jordan
      June 29, 2016, 7:40 am

      That the most ludicrous, stupid thing I’ve ever hear!
      Where do you even live?
      Have you owned a business or worked in Nobhill?
      Let’s nuke the world and start over with corporate chains that what this town need.

      You need to get out and see what’s really going on

      REPLY
  • Pete Dinelli
    June 28, 2016, 3:18 pm

    The Albuquerque Free Press reports on at least 4 looming major setbacks that any one could spell total doom for Berry’s Boondoggle ART Bus project: 1. both the US House of Representatives and US Senate may very well make drastic cuts to the Federal grant for the project reducing funding by at least $19 million, 2. the Feds have not given the City a letter of commitment for the funding to start spending, 3. compelling arguments are being made to the Federal Court to stop the project with a very good chance an injunction will be issued and 4. now a major player industry association is opposing the project. The fact that the New Mexico Restaurant Association is opposing the project , and sounding like their putting their money where their mouth is to help with the Federal lawsuit, should give Mayor Berry and the City Council, especially City Councilors Pat Davis and Ken Sanchez, real pause. New Mexico Restaurant Association President Carol Wight is as sharp as they come and a strong advocate for her industry and she knows what she is talking about when she says ART will hurt businesses and destroy many businesses along Central. Restaurants employ thousands of people, so when the industry is affected, you also affect hard working people. You would think with all that is happening, Mayor Berry and the City Council would order a stop to the project, but they won’t, because they would have to admit just how wrong they have been in promoting the project and ignoring their constituents in the first place saying they know what is good for Albuquerque.

    REPLY
  • Anonymous
    June 28, 2016, 3:53 pm

    In light of a City’s lack of oversight of ABQ Ride income ( http://krqe.com/2015/10/05/nearly-250000-in-albuquerque-bus-fare-money-goes-missing/ ) and the recent City Audit showing lack of controls with parking meter cashflow, how can any of the data provided by the City to the FTA be trusted?

    REPLY
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Bradley T. Schuman is a pop culture geek and music nerd with far too many records and opinions. Reach him at music@freeabq.com.