Tuesday, March 22, 2016

City to Accept Federal ART Funds

Albuquerque City Council Votes In Favor of ART Grant

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI The Albuquerque City Council on Monday voted to accept $69 million in federal grant money for Mayor Richard Berry's Albuquerque Rapid Transit project after hearing critics call it a boondoggle and supporters say it would be transformative for the city. The 7-2 vote came after nearly four hours of often heated public comment and debate that saw nearly 50 people comment. Opponents and supporters were about equally numbered. Councilors Dan Lewis and Klarissa Peña voted against the deal. The vote to accept the funding from the Federal Transit Administration was somewhat premature because Congress has yet to approve President Obama's budget, which contains the FTA's proposed grant, and the FTA has yet to give the city authorization to spend the money. More than 20 people commenting opposed the $119 million project. They complained that the plan represented corporate cronyism, would kill businesses along Central Avenue and was wasteful because it would replicate the Rapid Ride bus service already running along the street. They also argued that money should be spent increasing bus service along other routes in the city, and not on ART. Supporters argued that it could lessen dependence on cars and potentially transform Central into an area that is more pedestrian friendly and densely populated.   Property owner Tom Tinnin said he owned “enough square footage along Central to fill a Wal-Mart” and characterized ART as “the Rail Runner incarnate,” a reference to the commuter rail line between Belen and Santa Fe that is a huge money loser for the state. “This will kill business on Central,” he added. Opponent Charles Hickam called ART “a Utopian boondoggle” and added that will not turn Albuquerque into a high-density area as supporters hope. And opponent Ernest Sturdevant derided it as “conservative corporate cronyism.” Paul Lusk, a retired city planner, supported ART, but said the proposal needed modifications. Berry's administration hasn't been open to listening to neighborhood groups with their ideas about how the project should be changed, Lusk said. The Council voted to accept the federal money when it comes. City Municipal Development Director Michael Riordan told councilors that not one shovel of dirt would be turned on the project until the city gets word from the feds that the money will be forthcoming. But ART could face other hurdles. Attorney John McCall told councilors that he would sue the city to stop the project. “I will sue you over this because of the collaborative conversation that has not occurred,” McCall said. During a break in the meeting McCall said he has been approached by a group of citizens about filing a lawsuit against ART. Any lawsuit would focus on violations of the federal Historic Preservation Act and the fact that, in its application for federal money, the city said there was no significant opposition to the project, McCall said. Dennis Domrzalski is news editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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