Whistleblower lawsuit alleges safety shortcuts in Albuquerque Rapid Transit

A traffic engineer filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque, alleging he was fired after expressing concerns about traffic safety problems with the troubled Albuquerque Rapid Transit project that may have led to two deaths.

The Albuquerque Journal first reported about John Kolessar’s lawsuit filed Friday in district court in Albuquerque. In addition to the city being sued, so were his former supervisors, Melissa Lozoya and Keith Reed.

The lawsuit will add fuel to the fire over the controversial ART project along Central Avenue, which is two years late being fully implemented partly because of faulty electric buses that were scrapped in favor of traditional diesel buses. The project also allegedly caused the demise of 60 businesses along the city’s Route 66 corridor.

Route 66 News obtained a copy of the 15-page lawsuit filed by Kolessar. Among the allegations:

  • A myriad of “dangerous” traffic conditions was created by improperly placed signals, U-turns and crosswalks — the latter which led to two pedestrian deaths, including one recently settled by the city.
  • The city failed to abide by federal safety requirements with ART signs, and it rebuilt intersections without engineering studies “in violation of federal, state and local laws.”
  • Kolessar’s job was to inform the city so it would conform to standards for traffic-control devices. “On numerous occasions, including in the context of ART, Mr. Kolessar’s supervisors directed him to disregard … safety requirements” and “the city failed to address Mr. Kolessar’s concerns.”
  • The city bypassed such regulations “for political or budgetary reasons.” Citing one city official, Kolessar stated: “He and others did this to appease City Council members, the Mayor, and other important and influential people.” The mayor was Richard Berry, who shepherded ART through the city council and no longer is in office.
  • In one instance in September 2016, Kolessar attended a meeting where Reed “provided false information regarding traffic sign replacement to high-ranking City officials, including the City’s Chief Administrative Officer.”
  • Lozoya scoffed at Kolessar’s safety concerns in an email: “You have a habit of citing reduction in accidents, personal injury, property damage liability or increases in traffic flow to support your self-serving generalizations.”
  • Kolessar also said at least one employee was not being paid at the same amount as equally qualified workers and reported it to his supervisors as discrimination.
  • Kolessar said a city official changed his work schedule and placed a GPS tracker on his vehicle “to drum up minor personnel infractions against him.”
  • Kolessar notes he’s a traffic engineer with more than 40 years of experience and never had a negative work evaluation before ART.

There’s more in the lawsuit, but those are among the high points. Engineers, in general, are meticulous and keep a lot of notes and evidence because their duties demand it.

I suspect it’s going to get uncomfortable for a number of city employees when they have to testify under oath in depositions in lawyers’ offices. Unsavory things tend to get uncovered during the discovery process.

You can read the lawsuit below:

(A screen-capture image from a video of an Albuquerque Rapid Transit sign on Central Avenue)

5 thoughts on “Whistleblower lawsuit alleges safety shortcuts in Albuquerque Rapid Transit

  1. The latest stage in a scheme damned from the start. Please tell me how do I view the “screen-capture image from a video of an Albuquerque Rapid Transit sign on Central Avenue)”.

  2. Well, excuse the expression but it sounds to me like the shit just hit the fan.

    I was on Route 66 in ABQ in July 2018. I stayed at the Quality Inn at 13317 Central Ave NE because I needed to be near Tramway Blvd in the morning. Also, I knew there was a self-serve coin-op laundry in the stripmall across Central Ave. As it happens, ART’s #66 bus line terminates and lays over at a bus stop called Wenonah & Tramway, right there by the stripmall. As I was waiting for my laundry to finish, I walked over and buttonholed a bus driver. I identified myself as a public transit professional and just wanted to ask him some questions about the progress of the Central Avenue project. All I could get out of him for sure was that the electrically powered buses had been withdrawn from service because they were mechanically unreliable. Maybe he just didn’t know any more. Or maybe he knew that this was such a hot topic that the less said, the better. After all, if you don’t know whom you’re talking to, you might say something that could cost you your job.

    I have a sneaking and unwelcome suspicion that this lawsuit will be very public, very ugly, and very expensive.

    It’s a shame and my heart aches to see it. At inception, I thought it was an idea that had potential, but it was handled by the wrong people, and that spoiled it all. What a shame. What a waste.

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