Feds, Consultant Concluded Mother Road lacks 'historical integrity'
No consideration given to ART’s impact on historic neighborhoods
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
In the city’s push to get a federal grant for its Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, a determination was made that Central Avenue, or Route 66, didn’t have any “historical integrity.”
It meant there were no long, or short continuous stretches of the street that were examples of the architecture that predominated the glory days of the Mother Road through Albuquerque.
The finding was key in that it allowed the city to avoid having to do a full study of how ART might affect historical neighborhoods near Central, and it helped clear the way for the city to get a $69 million “Small Starts” grant for ART from the Federal Transit Administration.
But the determination that Route 66 through Albuquerque had no historical integrity wasn’t made by a panel of Albuquerque citizens or an independent panel of architectural and historical experts; it was made by an employee of an engineering consulting firm hired by the city’s transit department who was supervised by the FTA.
The engineering firm was Parsons Brinkerhoff and its employee was Jeff Fredine, who testified Wednesday in a hearing on two federal court lawsuits that seek to stop ART. Fredine’s job was to survey the stretch of Central along ART’s proposed route to determine if there were any buildings that could qualify to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A finding that a building did qualify for the federal register could have meant a delay in the FTA’s decision to fund the project.
But Fredine wasn’t allowed to look at every building along the 8.75-mile stretch of the ART route; he was only allowed to examine buildings where ART stations would be. That limitation was set by the FTA, Fredine said. And he testified that he did not look at what effect the increase in auto traffic on historic neighborhoods around Central would be—traffic caused by reducing general vehicular traffic on Central to one lane in each direction in order to accommodate two dedicated bus lanes.
The FTA’s big concern, Fredine said, was how canopies above ART stations in historic neighborhoods would affect the “view shed” from buildings along the street. When asked if he ever addressed the effect of increased traffic in historic neighborhoods, Fredine replied, “No, it was primarily about the canopies.”
Attorneys for ART opponents suggested in their questioning of Fredine that the failure to study the effect of traffic in those historic neighborhoods was a violation of the federal National Environmental Policy Act, which they said requires officials to study the effects of large transit projects on human beings who live near them.
The key to Fredine’s testimony was a phrase—area of potential effect—that drew the intense interest of U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales, who is hearing arguments for a preliminary injunction against ART. Once an APE is determined, studies regarding a project’s impact on historical structures, places and neighborhoods can begin. Fredine was called to testify, in part, because Gonzales wanted to know how the APE for ART was set.
Under cross examination from attorneys John Boyd and John McCall, Fredine said it was the FTA that wound up determining that ART would have no effect on buildings along Central. “The FTA determines the potential effect to properties,” Fredine said. “In this case they did it themselves.”
Fredine said he partially based his conclusion that Route 66 through Albuquerque had no historical integrity on a 1993 study of the road through New Mexico. That study found that the road’s nature was changing because of urbanization and that it was losing much of his architectural link to the past.
But under questioning from Boyd, Fredine conceded that the 1993 study was more concerned about Route 66 in rapidly urbanizing areas in rural parts of the state. When Boyd pointed out that the study recommended that cities like Grants, Gallup, Santa Rosa,Tucumcari and Albuquerque preserve their sections of the road, Fredine conceded that that was the case.
Boyd also pointed out that Route 66 in Albuquerque has been designated a national historic byway by the National Park Service and a national scenic byway by the Federal Highway Administration. When asked if he had consulted with those agencies about ART’s potential effect on the street, Fredine replied that he hadn’t.
The hearing continues today.
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