By Jeremy Zeilik / NM News Port
Local voters will indicate at the ballot box this November if they want to have a say on the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) system — but it may not amount to much. The measure is merely “advisory” in nature, and road construction has already begun. Moreover, the courts have refused to block the project.
Still the ballot measure is seen as a small victory for opponents trying to sway public opinion — and the federal government — against the $83 million project on Central Avenue.
The city council approved ART construction on Mar. 21, with a 7-2 vote. The majority of city council members said ART will help lead to redevelopment along Central and provide more reliable transportation than the current bus system.
“You’ve seen the signs that say ‘Stop ART,’” said City Councillor Ken Sanchez at a press conference on Sept. 8. “Well now it’s time to start ART.”
“I’m not against rapid transit,” said Anthony Anella, an architect who runs a firm on Dartmouth Drive right off of Central. “I’m against the imposition of the poor one-size-fits all project that is the Albuquerque Rapid Transit.”
On Aug. 23, the Bernalillo County Commission added an advisory vote to the November ballot. The measure will ask if Albuquerque residents should be given a chance to vote in support of or in opposition to ART construction.
Anella said he worked with county commissioners to get the measure on the ticket.
If the measure passes, no vote is likely to follow, Anella said.
“Even if the vote is not legally binding,” Anella said. “It could help show the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) that this is a project that needs to have an environmental impact study.”
Anella said there was a possibility of removing the categorical exclusion by the FTA.
“If we can prove that this is a controversial project, then the city might still have to do the study,” Anella said. “The people of Albuquerque need a say in this project.”
Anella said the current design of ART does not take into consideration the street design of Central, and would congest traffic under its current plan. The fear of traffic congestion is one of the reasons an advisory vote was put on the November ballot.
“It’s about the variable right-of-way width on Central,” Anella said. “There are some places where the road is 100 feet wide, and others where it’s only 75 or 50 feet.”
Anella says that this variable road width would force some of the ART stations to be in reversible one-way lanes. Meaning that one bus would have to pass going east before another can go west, choking up traffic. Because of the clogged up traffic, Anella said drivers would avoid going up and down Central, diverting individuals away from businesses like his. He said it could cause jams along the side streets near Central.
Anella said he was frustrated by a supposed lack of transparency by the city. He says he was not informed of the plans and designs of ART’s construction. Anella said businesses that are just off of Central, like his, were not contacted by the city.
“It’s like being issued a death sentence,” said Steve Schroeder, owner of Nob Hill Music.
Schroeder said this traffic diversion is a big worry for business owners along Central. Schroeder says he and other business owners fear more and more people will avoid the street during ART’s construction and future use.
“I get most of my business from pedestrians and tourists going down Route 66, with ART I will lose most of my income,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said he created the ART opposition website which has a combination of news articles and petitions to inform the public. Schroeder said he hopes his website will do its part to halt ART construction. Schroeder also designed the “Stop ART” signs that have appeared in the shop windows of businesses along Central.
Even with his effort, Schroeder said he believed it is too little too late, with construction commencing along the thoroughfare.
On the other hand, Anella said he believed that construction could still be halted. Anella was part of the lawsuit claiming the city had wrongly exempted an environmental impact study through a categorical exclusion.
According to the lawsuit, exclusions can be applied when a project is non-controversial but ART was improperly excluded. While the district court sided with the city, and an injunction has been lifted to allow construction to begin, Anella said he hoped that the case will have legs in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Still, a vote is what Anella and Schroeder say they want most of all.
“First the federal government was going to provide the project with $80 million,” Anella said. “Now that has dropped to $50 million, and we will have to pay the rest through taxes”
“We now will have to pay for taxes for a project we didn’t even vote on,” Schroeder said.
For both men they say this represents “taxation without representation.”
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