Editor’s note: this is the final piece in our series about the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) system. This fiasco was foisted on the city by Republican Mayor and a Republican Administration that claimed it was financially sound and fiscally responsible…
When, in fact, it made the most “tax and spend” liberal look restrained by comparison.
As 2017 yielded to 2018, the city of Albuquerque tried to make sense of ART, and total up the damages.
There was, first, the cost of the project itself. The city was now looking at a debt of many million dollars.
Then, second, there was the disruption that the project had caused during construction. Scores, maybe hundreds of small businesses had been forced to close their doors while customers could not reach them, or could not park near them. Traffic jams and detours had impacted thousands of commuters and shoppers, and that had doubtlessly reduced business and efficiency all over the city, not to mention raising the blood pressure of the commuters and shoppers themselves.
Third, it had made the city a laughing stock all over the world. You could hear chuckles as far away as China, where the company which built the buses which were supposed to run on ART was based, and which had successfully managed to avoid shipping a single working bus to Albuquerque.
And, finally, there was one more thing…
Route 66 is the Mother Road, one of those fabled roads which make up a part of the American heritage. Everyone had heard the song. “Get your kicks on Route 66.” Everyone has seen the iconic hotels that used to line it in Western cities as far away as California.
It no longer exists, technically. Long ago, it was replaced by our current highway system. But, even so, 66 remains in our hearts and our shared heritage.
And for a very long time, one of the best-preserved part of Route 66 ran right through the middle of Albuquerque. Most of the hotels and shops that lined it had fallen into disrepair, but you could see the fundamental architecture—the Pueblo Style Buildings, the fake teepees and neon cowboys…
If someone had wanted to spend a few hundred thousand dollars, that section of Route 66 might have been an important tourist center, and perhaps a shopping area for the residents of the city as well. In fact, before ART, people were actively trying to make that happen.
ART diverted enormous resources from the revitalization of the Route 66 area, and from Albuquerque’s downtown. Worse, the construction that did occur frequently damaged those areas. Again, to quote Pete Dinelli, “The ART bus project reminds me of “urban renewal” when entire residential neighborhoods were condemned to construct the Convention Center and Civic Plaza without a public vote. I also remember the demolition of the historic Alvarado Hotel and the historic Franciscan Hotel, both on Central in downtown Albuquerque. The majestic Franciscan Hotel was torn down for a parking lot.”
Quite simply, ART may have killed the one great urban stretch of Route 66 that remained in the country. Perhaps, somehow, the city will find a way to bring the Mother Road back to life.
But if it does not…
Then Mayor Berry and his administration will bear the blame.
Speaking of Berry, he was preparing to leave office. The end of his term had come, and any hopes he’d had of a political career beyond his time as the city’s chief administrator were gone. There’d been talk that he would run for governor, or even Congress, but that dream crumbled even as he watched.
There was an election under way. Republicans actually seemed to think they could keep the city for themselves, even after the ART debacle. It was a sign of either their over-confidence, or their desperation, that they selected dirty tricks as their chief strategy. The Democrat’s candidate, Tim Keller, was subjected to a not very subtle smear campaign, in which he was accused (without evidence) of being somehow soft on pedophiles.
The smear campaign failed spectacularly, and Keller was elected with a comfortable margin.
He is proving a popular and competent Mayor, making extensive and welcome changes in everything from the Police to the way that the city buys its supplies (he’s stressing local vendors).
But he faces that dreadful inheritance—ART.
As do we all. All of us in the city, who will be saddled with the costs of its destructive hubris for decades to come.
And so we come to the end of the tale of the ART.
A sad story, you say? Yes, indeed.
But a sad story limited in its impact only to the city of Albuquerque and its residents?
There, no. We have to say otherwise.
For ART is America in microcosm.
It is in miniature what we all face on a much larger scale in an age of Trump…an administration that came to power promising wealth and economic vigor, but which is interested solely in itself and its own well-being; a government which is motivated by a vast arrogance and chilling self-importance; a White House controlled by a man who is, at best, an incompetent narcissist, and at worst, an actual traitor.
And, more, even if we do get some national version of Tim Keller, some good and principled man or woman in the White House who will help us regain our nation and our freedom…
The damage has been done and is great.
And it may take years, or even generations…