In order to grant the preliminary injunction against ART that two lawsuits are seeking, the judge would have to find that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm
Judge Has Narrow Area on Which to Base Ruling
Only administrative record can be considered
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
A federal judge was expected to rule today on whether to block Mayor Richard Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, or let construction begin as early as next week.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales is expected to make his ruling after hearing closing arguments in the case, which are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. today.
Gonzales must decide whether the city and the Federal Transit Administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. His decision will center on whether the city and the FTA did the required environmental and historical studies as required by the laws and whether the FTA followed its own policies and procedures in granting the city a $69 million Small Starts transit grant for ART.
In order to grant the preliminary injunction against ART that two lawsuits are seeking, Gonzales would have to find that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm from the project, that they are likely to succeed in their effort to seek a permanent injunction and that the FTA acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in approving ART.
The grueling two-day hearing, which so far has included 22 hours of arguments and testimony, is narrowly focused on the FTA’s administrative record in the case. It’s not about how many people oppose ART, but whether the FTA followed its own administrative procedures.
On Thursday, Gonzales heard testimony from five ART opponents who said who said the project would destroy Central Avenue and the culture that has grown up around it. The most traumatic testimony came from Maria Bautista, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, who said ART, with its dedicated bus lanes down the center of Central would turn the street into a “concrete turnpike.”
When asked how ART would affect her, Bautista paused for several moments, and in a quivering and tearful voice said, “This is a cultural catastrophe, is the first thing I would say. It will completely destroy the ambiance. We can never regain at this point what we have lost.”
Bautista and others also testified that they were repeatedly told by city officials last year that ART’s buses needed dedicate lanes down the middle of Central in order to qualify for the Small Starts grant that is funding ART. But that’s not the case. In a February 2014 email to his superiors, a city transit department planner wrote that he had been mistaken in believing that ART had to run on dedicated lanes in order to get the grant.
The email was a point of contention Thursday as attorneys for ART opponents, John Boyd and John McCall, tried to get the email admitted into evidence. Attorneys for the city and the FTA fought the effort, saying the email wasn’t part of the FTA’s administrative record. Gonzales agreed with the FTA and refused to admit the email into evidence That means he can’t consider it in making a decision in the case.
The city and the FTA called three witnesses. The city’s chief operations officer, Michael Riordan, testified that construction crews would spend a maximum of 60 days in front of any business during the construction period. He said that would minimize disruption to any business and that the city would ensure that customers have access to businesses during the construction period.
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