Opposition to Bus Project Crosses All Ethnic LinesBY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI When it comes to the court of public opinion, Mayor Richard Berry's $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project down Central Avenue is in big trouble. Only 28 percent of the city's registered voters support ART, while 79 percent say it should be put to a public vote, according to a poll by Carroll Strategies, an Albuquerque public relations firm. In addition, only 25 percent believe that ART will boost the city's economy, and only 23 percent said they would use it after it is built. The poll also made it clear that pretty much everyone knows about ART. Of the 2,020 people surveyed, 87.5 percent said they were aware of the project, which would put dedicated bus lanes in the middle of Central and mostly reduce automobile traffic to one lane in each direction along a 10-mile stretch of the street. “It's very significant that 87.5 percent of Albuquerque is aware of the project,” said Tom Carroll, president of Carroll Strategies. “The city has created the awareness for the project, but right now the support is weak—and people are saying at this point that they won't use it when it's done. The city can still gain support, but it has to build its case to the people of Albuquerque.” The company commissioned the poll on its own behalf, not for opponents or proponents of the project, Carroll said. On Wednesday, the mayor's office touted the project's job-creation potential. "Bradbury Stamm Construction, the firm selected to oversee the construction of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project, announced it will solicit bids primarily from local subcontractors for building ART," the mayor's office said in a news release. "The company has bid the first phases of the project to approximately 500 local construction firms. All the bids submitted for the first phase of construction were from New Mexico companies. It is estimated up to 1,000 new jobs will be created during the 14-month construction project." By contrast, the poll had almost no good news for Berry, who has argued that ART will attract millennials and help to revitalize Central. Opposition to the project was consistent across nearly all demographic groups. Forty-six percent of those aged 18 to 30 opposed ART, 37 percent supported it and 17 percent were undecided. Sixty-two percent of all college graduates opposed it, with 57 percent of those was a Master's degree or higher saying they didn't want it. Support for ART was weak among African-Americans at just 31 percent; among Anglos, 22 percent; and among Hispanics, 37 percent. Half of Native Americans supported it. And when it came to actually using ART once it is built, 69 percent said they wouldn't, including 60 percent of those between 18 and 30 years old. Carroll said that while infrastructure projects are always controversial, it was “pretty spectacular” that 79 percent of those polled would like a public vote on ART. “Even supporters would like to see a vote on it,” Carroll said. ART has been mired in bad news in the past few weeks. Congressional appropriations committees have recommended cutting the project by a minimum of $19 million. The House Appropriations Committee has recommended cutting ART's Federal Transit Administration grant to $50 million from $69 million, while the Senate Appropriations Committee is looking to make even steeper cuts in all of the FTA's 10 Small Starts transit project around the nation -- of which ART is one project. The New Mexico Restaurant Association has also come out against ART, saying it will put restaurants along Central out of business. And, in June, ART opponents revealed that the city's application to the FTA for the Small Starts grant said that the project will create traffic congestion where none now exists, and that in 19 years, ART might have to be junked in order to alleviate the congestion it will have created. Two federal court lawsuits are seeking injunctions to stop ART. A federal court judge has scheduled a two-day hearing on the injunction requests to begin on July 27 in Albuquerque. Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at email@example.com.
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