Inspector general’s report criticizes ART project

Albuquerque’s inspector general on Thursday issued a scathing report about the troubled Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along nine miles of the city’s Route 66 corridor.

The report, in effect, repudiates former mayor Richard Berry, who championed the project and shepherded ART through a divided city council. Berry said ART, which caused 18 months of construction disruption on one of the city’s main arteries, was needed to draw high-tech companies and millennials.

Berry, reached by media outlets, said he hadn’t received a copy of the report and declined to comment.

New Mayor Tim Keller, who’d criticized ART as “a bit of a lemon,” issued this statement after the release of the report by inspector general David Harper:

“The report is a helpful summary of how they got into this mess. The findings show why it’s taking an extraordinary amount of time and effort to clean it up, so the transportation system works for the people of our city. We continue to welcome all the help we can get to fix this.”

The Albuquerque Journal laid out key findings in the 73-page report:

• The city funded construction using general obligation bonds that taxpayers intended to be used for other projects. The city should avoid situations where there is unreasonable risk with using funds earmarked for other uses.
• The city should minimize projects that do not have a grant agreement in place.

• The city should exercise due diligence before awarding future contracts to companies that are untested and pose more than a reasonable risk.

• The city selected contractors using an “Ad Hoc Advisory Committee” that included high-level city officials instead of professors from local universities, members from city commissions and officials from county or state agencies that have similar services.

• City employees and contractor personnel should go to extreme lengths to avoid the appearance of biases, conflicts and partiality.

The city began the project with the pretext of receiving a $75 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. But the city still hasn’t received the money. Without the funding, the report states it would have a “severe impact on the city’s financial health.”

The newspaper stated the report didn’t identify instances of fraud, but it “doesn’t mean fraud did not occur.”

Here’s KRQE-TV’s video on the inspector general’s report:

Though construction along Central Avenue (aka Route 66) essentially done, that doesn’t mean ART is finished. Electric buses built by BYD still have to pass testing in Pennsylvania before being delivered to Albuquerque — a process that will take 13 months or more. The few BYD buses that were delivered to Albuquerque came with design flaws and a battery system that didn’t go as many miles as expected.

KOB-TV also reported:

In November 2017, then Mayor Richard Berry rode the first ART bus that offered free rides to the River of Lights. Harper said the bus Berry rode on wasn’t the city’s to begin with. Originally for the Antelope Valley Transit Authority in California, it was lent to the City of Albuquerque.

“We took it knowingly that it was not the bus that we were going to eventually own,” Harper said. “I think it was a little deceptive that we didn’t tell the citizens and the public. We made them believe that this was one of the buses we could ride on.”

The state of New Mexico also said in February it would have its state auditor investigate ART. That report has not yet been issued.

(Screen-capture image from video of an Albuquerque Rapid Transit sign in Albuquerque)

3 thoughts on “Inspector general’s report criticizes ART project

  1. I do not know enough to judge how this mass transti project has gone. It sounds like there have been serious problems, most notably that federal funds have not come through yet.

    But this sentence is a red herring: “The newspaper stated the report didn’t identify instances of fraud, but it “doesn’t mean fraud did not occur.” The Albuquerque paper should dig up any instance of fraud but short of that it should not hint at fraud unless it can back that up.

  2. I agree Pete. From the beginning, I thought this project was very suspect, and said so. But this appears to have devolved into pure political finger pointing, and that sort of reporting is B.S.

    1. Plausible deniability using the excuse of governmental incompetence can only be pushed so far – when countless millions of dollars evaporate behind a mirage of false claims and misleading assurances that we as a city couldn’t possibly end up like this, there’s fraud all right. What else could it be? Face facts: the A.R.T. scandal is an unspeakable tragedy involving deliberate deception (in more ways than one).

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