President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year contains no federal money for Albuquerque Rapid Transit — news that caused anxiety with some city officials and ART supporters.
Mayor Richard Berry remains confident the $119 million ART project to convert nine miles of Central Avenue (aka Route 66) into dedicated bus lanes will receive its $69 million Federal Transit Administration grant later this year — likely between July and October.
The lack of FTA funding in Trump’s budget isn’t just an oversight, according to the Albuquerque Journal:
The Trump budget blueprint proposes limiting funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program – the same New Starts grant program that Albuquerque is banking on to provide $69 million for the ART project. Specifically, his blueprint calls for limiting New Starts grants “to projects with existing full funding grant agreements only.”
Albuquerque does not yet have a full funding grant agreement in place.
In his 2018 budget proposal, Trump says, “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”
At least one city councilor is dismayed:
“This has been one of the major concerns I’ve had throughout this tug of war: trusting in uncertain sources of funds,” said Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis, one of two councilors who voted against ART.
“Why was the city counting their chicks before they hatched?” Lewis asked. “Wishful thinking is not sound leadership. When I sponsored the Interstate 25 Paseo flyover, we built the funding piece by piece, before we brought in the earth-moving equipment, not leaving gaps that could later collapse in on itself.”
Berry told KOAT-TV in Albuquerque that Congress still hasn’t approved a budget that includes ART for the 2017 fiscal year, and Washington lawmakers still have until Oct. 1 to do so.
“I have a lot of confidence the united states congress, the men and women that go there to serve, aren’t going to allow any community, whether it’s Albuquerque, or Phoenix, or Houston, or Los Angeles to have half a project unfinished,” said Mayor Berry.
The mayor has been lobbying for the federal money since August 2015 and expects the money between July and this fall.
City councilor Pat Davis, who was in Washington last week for a conference, told the Journal he’d heard the Trump administration likely will include ART funding in an Omnibus infrastructure bill later this year.
Berry said if the eventual 2017 budget does not contain federal funds for ART, the city probably would have to receive that money piecemeal over several years.
ART is scheduled to be finished late this year. Nobody seems to know what will happen with construction if the Oct. 1 deadline passes and Albuquerque still hasn’t received the grant. Albuquerque was recommended for a FTA grant on Feb. 9, 2016, and it still is waiting.
Complicating matters was a large number of Central Avenue business owners opposed ART, saying long construction time and fewer lanes for commuter vehicles will hurt revenue.
While Berry, a Republican, remains confident Albuquerque Rapid Transit will be federally funded, the Albuquerque Free Press notes most of New Mexico’s congressional delegation who support ART are Democratic. Republicans control the presidency, House and Senate, and the only New Mexico Republican lawmaker in Washington opposes ART.
Berry keeps saying it’s “unprecedented” the Federal Transit Administration wouldn’t award a grant it has recommended. But with a Congress that finds difficulty in getting basic laws passed and a new president who safely can be described as a “maverick” in capital letters, it’s not wise to begin a massive infrastructure project without the money you need to finish it.
(Artist’s rendering of one of the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit stations at Central Avenue and Washington Street)