ART Before the Horse?BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI On Monday, the city announced that construction on the $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project would begin in late July, not in May as originally scheduled. The delay was attributed to the incorporation of “some of the requested changes and information” from the public, the city's news release on the matter said. What the city didn't say was that the ART project still has to clear another hurdle: approval from the city Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission for changes to Central Avenue in the East Downtown area. The city filed an application for the change approvals on March 9, which some say was late in the process and evidence that the city has been trying to push the project through without the appropriate public input. City workers began erecting signs Monday night along Central advertising the LUCC hearing, which is scheduled for April 13. The city is seeking a “certificate of appropriateness” to make changes to medians and sidewalks in the Huning Highland-East Downtown Urban Conservation Overlay Zone in a seven-block area between Locust Street on the west and John Street on the east. “The significant change is the loss of one general purpose [traffic] lane in each direction, to create room for a bi-directional Bus Rapid Transit Lane down the center of the street,” the application said. Former city councilor Pete Dinelli, an ART opponent, said the city's application should have been filed long ago. The fact that it was filed on March 9 “boils down to sheer arrogance on the part of the administration and the transit department to push this through without appropriate public hearings,” Dinelli said. He added that although the city's application is late in the process, it's not fatal to the ART project. As part of its application, the city was required to notify 15 neighborhood and other associations in the area. It sent registered letters to the associations on March 9, according to the application. Attorney John McCall, who is thinking of filing a lawsuit to stop ART, also said the city should have filed its application much sooner. “They are trying to go back and cover their bases, this should have been done before,” McCall said. “They have been putting the cart before the horse.” Deputy ABQ Ride Director Dayna Crawford is the city's point person for the ART project. She did not immediately return a message ABQ Free Press left on her cell phone regarding the city's application to the LUCC. Planning Department spokeswoman Melissa Perez said the city filed the application at the appropriate time--after its ART plans for the area were finalized. Filing before the plans were ready would have been premature, she said. On Feb. 9, the Federal Transit Administration recommended approval of a $69 million federal grant for ART. The recommendation is in President Barack Obama's budget that has yet to be approved by Congress. The city has yet to receive word from the FTA that it has permission to spend that money. On March 21, the Albuquerque Council voted 7-2 to accept the federal grant even though the money had not been appropriated. Dinelli said the city will have a rough time getting its application approved by the LUCC, especially when so many neighborhood associations will have a say in the process. “This could delay this for months,” Dinelli said. Dennis Domrzalski is associate editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at email@example.com.
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