A judge late Friday refused to grant a preliminary injunction against construction of the nine-mile Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus system that would go down the heart of Central Avenue, aka Route 66.
Construction on ART likely will begin by the middle of next week. The project will take at least 15 months to complete.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales heard two days of sometimes impassioned testimony against the project. Dozens of Route 66 businesses have said ART construction and its narrower traffic lanes would hurt them. That group filed a federal lawsuit against the project several weeks ago, trying to stop it.
The judge also weighed the effect on construction delays that likely would make the ART project more expensive.
The Albuquerque Journal reported:
The judge expressed mixed personal feelings about the project, but he said it was his job to apply the law objectively, regardless of the political debate.
Granting a preliminary injunction, he said, requires meeting strict legal standards.
“If or when the ART project is constructed and put into operation, there may be a day when I will utilize it and fully realize everything the system now is envisioned to be: a speedy, convenient, environmentally smart transportation system that, in addition, spurs necessary economic development into an area of Albuquerque that needs it,” Gonzales wrote.
“Today, however, and from a personal standpoint,” he continued, “I cannot be certain that I buy in. It means changes to an area of Albuquerque that I may not be ready to accept. But to resolve this matter, I must set aside my personal opinion and employ the correct legal standards.” […]
To win an injunction, opponents had to show they were likely to succeed on the merits of their case — that the Federal Transit Administration improperly exempted ART from the requirement for a detailed environmental analysis. They also had to show that allowing the project to move forward would create irreparable harm and that stopping it now was in the public’s interest.
Gonzales said the law required him to give deference to the FTA’s technical expertise, a tough standard for opponents to overcome and win their case.
Experienced court observers such as Journal reporter Dan McKay tweeted that getting a preliminary injunction against the city was a “high legal hurdle.” But McKay also noted that the plaintiffs’ lawyers made good legal arguments against ART, especially the city getting approval from the Federal Transportation Administration without an environmental assessment.
Skeptics of ART predict a catastrophe for Route 66 businesses and Central’s atmosphere. ART supporters say the bus line will make Albuquerque more attractive to cyclists, pedestrians and high-tech companies that bring good-paying jobs.
What will be the effect of ART? I have no idea.
I suspect it won’t be the catastrophe businesses claim, nor do I think ART will be the success its supporters predict.
There’s little doubt a few weak businesses on Albuquerque’s Route 66 will close their doors (which might have happened even without ART construction). But stalwart establishments such as The Frontier restaurant and the 66 Diner almost certainly will keep going. And the historic but long-closed De Anza Motor Lodge and El Vado Motel will reopen in mid-2018 after development. Good things are happening on Route 66 in the Duke City, regardless.
Forecasts for ART ridership seem overly optimistic. But by the time the project is fully running in 2018, the price of gasoline may jump to $4 to $5 a gallon, making riding the bus to work look mighty attractive. And with young people less inclined to buy cars, perhaps we’ll look back on Albuquerque’s bold move and see how prescient — or lucky — it was.
“Route 66: The Mother Road” author Michael Wallis often has said nothing is for certain on Route 66 except change. The Duke City is going to see a lot of it.
(Artist’s rendering of an ART station near the De Anza Motor Lodge in Albuquerque)