City Wins Again On ART-Updated

City Wins Again On ART-Updated

In a 57-page ruling, the court found that ART's opponents were wrong when they claimed that the Federal Transit Administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to order the city to study the environmental impacts of the project.

Tenth Circuit Denies Request For Injunction

No Environmental Assessment Needed

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

The U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday handed another—and possibly the final—loss to opponents of Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along Central Avenue.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver affirmed a lower court ruling that said construction on the project could proceed. The 57-page ruling said that ART’s opponents were wrong when they claimed that the Federal Transit Administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to order the city to study the environmental impacts of the project.

“The fact remains that plaintiffs have failed to establish a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits of their NEPA-based claim,” the opinion said. “Consequently, they have failed to establish that the public interest would be served if a preliminary injunction were entered in their favor.”

The three-judge panel also found that U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales didn’t commit an error in July when he refused to consider a traffic study by ART opponents that said ART would divert traffic into neighborhoods along Central. After a three-day hearing in the summer, Gonzales refused to issue an injunction against ART. The appellate court also ruled that Gonzales did not err when he refused to let into evidence an email from a transit department employee saying he had been wrong in his belief that ART had to have dedicated lanes in order to get an FTA grant.

Berry welcomed the decision.

“I am pleased both the federal district and the appellate courts have seen the merit of this catalytic project to allow us to move forward,” Berry said. “ART is a world-class project that will cohesively connect Albuquerque via the Central Avenue, I understand that change is not easy, and if it were, it would not be worth it. I encourage everyone to watch the project unfold as it makes our city a more connected and vibrant place to live.”

 Opponents can ask the court for a rehearing, but as of press time, no decision had been made. It was basically the fourth legal loss in the attempt to stop ART, which will run buses that resemble trains down dedicate lanes in the middle of Central.

In the summer, a federal court judge refused to order a preliminary injunction in the case that opponents had requested. The opponents appealed, and the Appellate Court temporarily enjoined the city from beginning construction on the project. But that injunction was lifted in late August over the opponents’ objections.

Later, opponents sought another injunction, but the Appellate Court denied that as well.

The question now is whether ART will be fully funded. As of press time, the FTA had yet to approve funding for the project. And, while $69 million for ART was included in President Obama’s proposed budget for next year, Congress has decided to junk that budget and wait for a spending proposal after President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

The city began construction on ART in October with about $30 million in other federal grants it has received in past years for things like landscaping and sidewalk improvements.

ART opponents have claimed that they were shut out of the design process, and that the project, which will pretty much limit auto traffic on Central to one lane in each direction, will cause businesses along the street to fail.

The city has claimed that ART will help revitalize a nine-mile stretch of Central and that it is key to attracting millennials to the area.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of 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.