A Streetcar Named Disaster: Part 3 - Liberal Resistance

A Streetcar Named Disaster: Part 3

Editor’s note: we are running a series on the Albuquerque Rapid Transit System (A.R.T. for short). This was a disastrous attempt on the part of the Republican Mayor to create a “bus rapid transit” line in the city.

The city’s residents were supportive of the an investment in improved mass transit, until they discovered that it was going to run through parts of the city that had no need of rapid transit, and that it would damage businesses everywhere along its route.

This from the GOP, which says it is fiscally responsible.

1.

For months and months, the people of Albuquerque had protested and lodged complaints. They had signed petitions. They had written letters. They had even gone to court.

But to no avail. It was as if the city government, under the direction of Mayor Richard Berry, didn’t care what the voters wanted. What mattered was Mayor Berry’s legacy. And, also, perhaps, the power of the GOP-dominated city administration, which wanted no opposition to its high and holy plans…even if, in the process, the heart of the city was ripped out. Which, to a certain extent, it was, as the downtown and Nob Hill districts were turned into vast construction sites, and traffic jams stretched for miles everywhere.

Particularly impacted were the businesses along the route. They no longer had parking. In some cases, customers couldn’t even get to their doors. The construction blocked whole streets, and entire neighborhoods were suddenly isolated from the world.

The businesses complained, of course. And the city responded with promises of bridge loans, a little something to get the shops and service providers through the difficult times.

All well and good. But as the Journal newspaper reported shortly thereafter, who was to get the loans, how they were to get them, and from whence the money was to come, all were unclear. Jessica Dyer, writing in the Journal in 2017, noted that the city said up to a 100 small businesses were in line to get such loans, which might not even have to be paid back, but “But the fund supporting those loans has been slow to materialize.

It wasn’t even certain how much money there was, or who was to provide it. The city said that it would come from “ donations from private businesses and philanthropic organizations.” But what businesses? What organizations? Who, exactly, was going to pay for all these “loans” that might be outright grants?

And how much money was there? Dyer notes that the city said there was between $100,000 and a half a million. But, the city declined to provide exact figures, “citing concern that providing a more precise number may prompt a business to ‘request more money than what they may need, knowing how much is being offered.’”

Thus it was that the city, in its benevolence, said it would assist the small businesses which it had wounded, but declined to say how it would do so, because it did not trust the people and firms it said it was there to help.

2.

Truth be told, things never got either clearer or better with the bridge loans. A year later, we are still not certain who, if anyone, got them, and how they much received, if anything.

Meanwhile, one by one, the businesses along the route began to fail. Shops, stores, restaurants, services, offices…they withered and perished. Their customers could no longer reach them. They could not pay their bills. They could not pay their rents. They vanished…

And the companies which had rented them space, or which had provided them with supplies, or which had relied on them as customers or clients…

They, too, began to falter.

And all this was done by an administration that said it was so very, very pro-business.

3.

Meanwhile, too, the question that haunted everyone was How Are We Going To Pay For All This? ART’s bills were going to run into the tens of millions. Where was the city going to get that kind of cash? Albuquerque is a prosperous place, with a vibrant business community…

But we’re not that prosperous. And our business community can’t budget projects on so grand a scale.

Not to worry, the Mayor had said. There’s lots of money available. It is going to come from Washington. Some $69 million dollars, the Mayor said, was already promised by the Federal Transportation Administration. That number …that comforting number of sixty nine million dollars…it was repeated again, and again, and again…

We didn’t have, the Mayor said, a thing to worry about…

And of course, of course…

We should have worried.

Oh, dear God, how we should have worried…