Last week, we introduced you to “The ART,” the Albuquerque Rapid Transit system. The story that follows is Part 2 of that A.R.T. tale, and we offer it not just because the story takes place in Albuquerque, the place where LR Net has its home office, but also because it is uniquely instructive.
Specifically, because it says much about the supposed fiscal responsibility of certainly Republicans, whose theme seems now to be austerity for everyone…
As you’ll recall from last time, A.R.T. was supposed to be a rapid transit bus line that would run down the middle of a major road here in the city known as Central—which is also the old Route 66. A.R.T. was the plan of a Republican-dominated government and a Republican Mayor, Richard Berry, who seems to have wanted the system as a kind of personal triumph, his legacy, in other words.
At first, people were pleased. The city has needed better public transport for decades. Finally, they said, we’ve got a mayor who is going to Address The Problem.
But, then, they learned where ART was going to run. It was to go for only about ten miles—from, roughly, Old Town, which is a major tourist destination here, through Downtown, past the university, through a (then) trendy shopping district known as Nob Hill, and finally end somewhere on the East side of the city…where there is, basically, nothing but RV dealerships, poverty, and, well, sex workers.
And in the process, it was going to disrupt everything—downtown would turn into a maze of construction, there’d be no parking, businesses would fail, there’d be massive traffic jams across the city. It was going to be an utter fiasco.
All of which was known. None of it was a surprise to anyone. Keen-eyed observers had seen what was coming, and they’d told anyone who would listen.
Consider, for example, Pete Dinelli, a long time city resident, activist, and observer of the political scene. On his blog and in public statements, he told the world what was coming. ART would be a disaster.
“The City insists ART will increase bus usage up and down Central. It will not,” he wrote back in 2016, when the project was just getting started. “The overwhelming majority of the demographics the City says it is targeting relies too much on their own vehicles to travel to and from work all over this entire city. A mere ten-mile stretch of ART is not going to reduce people’s reliance on their vehicles. The truth is, the City already spent millions on the ‘Rapid Ride’ system up along Central which is just as effective if not more as ART. ART is an expensive and glorified version of Rapid Ride but with a dedicated lane and canopies down the center of historic Route 66. The designed elevated bus stops and canopies do not conform nor fit into and will destroy the historical character of many parts of Route 66.
“The ART project is very poorly designed. The construction has destroyed and eliminated the median improvements made in the ten-mile stretch. An estimated 300 storefront parking spaces will be eliminated and no left turns will be allowed along the route. ART will significantly increase traffic congestion when there will be only one dedicated lane for traffic in each direction. Emergency vehicle travel will also be seriously impaired because of traffic congestion and the dedicated bus lanes system with elevated bus stops in the middle of the road.
“The ART project will destroy thriving businesses especially in the East Downtown (EDO), Hunning Highland and Nob Hill areas. Many businesses have already been forced to close because of loss of business caused by ART construction. The Berry Administration has described proposed mitigation efforts to lessen the impact of construction on businesses, including offering ‘bridge loans’, which are not at all compelling nor convincing. Why would a thriving business want a ‘loan’ to make up for business losses caused by this ill advised City project?”
Therefore, when the city invited public comment on its plans for ART, the public responded enthusiastically…with a loud No. At meetings, in mailings, with phone calls, in letters to the editor, the people spoke in a single, mighty voice…
They said, ART must not happen.
And then …
They were ignored.
In an astonishing development, the public comments, the petitions, the emails, the phone calls, the rallies, the public meetings…had no effect. Nothing was done. The city, or rather, Mayor Berry’s administration, received all the public input…smiled politely, and disregarded it all. The whole process, the supposed request for public input, seemed a complete and total fraud. The administration was going to do exactly what it wanted to do, regardless of what the people thought or said.
The city’s government and the city’s population could have been located on different planets. Yolanda R. Gallegos, one of the attorneys who eventually represented one of the several groups who brought suit against the city in a desperate attempt to stop ART, summed up the situation brilliantly in an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal. She noted that the people of Albuquerque sent the Federal Transportation Administration no less than 1600 letters in opposition to the project. Moreover, there were scores of studies by experts showing that the ART was fundamentally wrong-headed.
Yet, none of that made any difference.
Berry wanted his buses. And he was going to get them. No matter what.
And before anyone knew quite what was happening, construction began.
People began to ask…
Exactly how are we going to pay for it all?
But that is for next time.