New Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller can’t be too happy with his predecessor now.
Not only is his city facing a budget deficit of about $10 million, but the city still hasn’t received $75 million in federal money to help pay for the now-completed Albuquerque Rapid Transit project more than a year after it began construction.
According to the Albuquerque Journal newspaper:
As for Albuquerque Rapid Transit, the controversial project that is transforming Central Avenue into a rapid-transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations, Keller said it’s not fully funded. The project cost was initially pegged at $119 million but is now about $134 million.
The city is banking on $75 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program for the project, and the previous administration had told the council that the federal funding was on track and that the funding agreement should be in place by this past November.
A federal budget deal announced in May contained $50 million for the Albuquerque project, and former Mayor Richard Berry’s administration said at the time that he was expecting the rest to be awarded the next year, although it has been unclear when, exactly, the city would get the money.
“I’m telling you, straight up, we do not have the money from the feds,” Keller said. “It has been promised. It has been in the budget. The check has not been signed. We’re going in January to meet with them to get an update. We have to understand, as a city, to call it like it is, which is that all the homework was done. All the legwork was done, but we still need the check.”
The Federal Transit Administration told the Journal earlier this week that the ART project is in the Small Starts Project Development phase of the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program and is undergoing internal review.
Keller said if the federal money doesn’t arrive, he thinks expanding ART lines to the airport will help bring more revenue and offset the revenue shortfall.
More than a year of construction on Central (aka Route 66) for ART proved financially terrible for almost all its businesses, with some reporting revenue declines of 60 percent. Some also fear the changed structure of Central will diminish its Route 66 history and allure.
Proponents said ART will draw more high-density development to the city’s core and entice more millennials and high-tech companies. The younger generation drives less and is more apt to use mass transit such as ART.
I’m on the fence about ART. I remain skeptical whether the city’s population density is high enough to justify the project. However, I appreciate mass-transit systems in cities such as St. Louis, San Francisco and Chicago. Such systems are nothing to scoff at.
Time will tell whether Berry eventually will be regarded as a visionary or foolhardy. If ART’s problems persist, we can regard his long-rumored bid for governor of New Mexico as DOA.
(Hat tip to Melissa Lea Beasley; image of Albuquerque Rapid Transit construction on Central Avenue in June by Tim Kuzdrowski via Flickr)