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Report predicts short, disruptive life for ART project

WILL ART BE RIPPED UP IN 19 YEARS? That question comes from local attorney Jeffrey Baker, who emails “I read that the lifespan of ART is projected to be 19 years, after which it will be ripped out and Central will return to four traffic lanes. Do you know if the expanded sidewalks will remain or will they need to be narrowed?”

That question seems to focus on the trees and not the forest – the real question isn’t about sidewalks but if the $119 million bus construction project that so many love to hate will be ripped up, at taxpayer expense, in our lifetimes.

Baker is referring to reports by the Rio Grande Foundation and nmpoliticalreport.com, which cite a 2015 analysis of ART by Parsons Brinckerhoff and the city’s application to the feds.

The Rio Grande Foundation concludes that “ART would make bus travel along its guideway faster, but at the cost of reducing mobility for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.”

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And nmpoliticalreport goes further, saying “Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million bus rapid transit project down Central Avenue will create traffic congestion where none exists and will have to be junked in 19 years to alleviate the congestion it created. The city’s own federal transit application shows that, currently, there is no real traffic congestion on Central along the proposed 10-mile ART route. … The city’s own data submitted to the FTA show that after ART is built, with its dedicated bus lanes down the center of Central, 15 intersections along the route in the morning rush hour will be more congested than they now are. During the afternoon rush hour, that number increases to 32 intersections … and by 2035 congestion would be so bad that ART’s dedicated bus lanes would have to be junked and the central portions of the street returned to full traffic lanes.”

The 2015 analysis includes a “mitigation” section that goes intersection by intersection, from 98th to Juan Tabo, in 2035 with nine references to “convert dedicated ART lane to mixed-use/general purpose lane” to relieve congestion.

So is Albuquerque building ART now just to rip it up later?

Joanie Griffin of Griffin & Associates is handling ART information for the city. And her answer amounts to “probably not.”

Griffin says “all federal projects, including ART, must follow rigorous traffic modeling to ensure that the project will not fall below an acceptable level of service for at least 20 years.

“In 2038, there may need to be modifications to the roadway, like any roadway project, to increase the level of service. As with most growing cities that will likely be more mass transit, not more general traffic lanes.”

NOT ENOUGH DIVIDE IN THE HIGHWAY: Joe Chavez emails that “I travel extensively on Interstate 25 north to visit relatives in Las Vegas, and for almost the entire trip, north and southbound traffic are separated by man-made barriers or geographically separated by several feet, which avoids allowing an incapacitated – i.e., drunken – driver from crossing over into oncoming traffic.

“However, between mile markers 294 and 299 – about 12-17 miles north of the last Santa Fe exit (282), just as you begin to enter into the Glorietta Pass area – neither of these conditions exist. There are instances where the north and southbound lanes are separated by less than 15 feet, with no physical barrier, and the ground between the two sides of the interstate is basically flat. This section of the interstate is an accident waiting to happen with potentially tragic results. Why has NMDOT ignored this safety hazard?”

It’s not ignore so much as been unable to secure funding.

Emilee Cantrell, spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, says “we do recognize the need here. The area has been reviewed for its need of post-and-cable (median barriers), and it is a suitable location. A project to install it must be prioritized with other needs in the district. It is something we plan to do in the future.”

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858; dwestphal@abqjournal.com; or P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103.

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