From his recent news conference, it appears Mayor Tim Keller is looking for ways to finish the ART project – a project that most Albuquerque citizens do not support. He is certainly demonstrating the keen abilities that made him a good state auditor by defining the categories of problems with construction, design, funding, safety standards, buses and operational issues.
But there’s another level of analysis that is imperative. As a business owner on Central, I feel strongly that City Hall needs input from Central business owners on the economic results of this project so far. This should include expanded analysis on the businesses that have closed since construction began – an incomplete list is at SAVERT66.org – the loss of city revenue from gross receipts taxes those businesses generated, and the loss of jobs to employees who worked for those businesses. There is also the “trickle down” damage of businesses on Central ordering less from wholesalers, laundries and a wide variety of other suppliers.
The ongoing impacts to businesses on Central must be considered as well as the continuing expenses of re-engineering the project and the future costs of maintaining ART.
Route 66 was the major trade route coming into Albuquerque and New Mexico. In my business, 30 percent of the buying customers do not live in Albuquerque. The New Mexico Tourism Department reports that tourism contributes 19 percent of all generated tax revenue in New Mexico. According to the figures on their site, 20 percent of the gross domestic product of New Mexico comes from tourism.
What happens when a major trade route bypasses a city? Think of Grants and Gallup and Interstate 40 bypassing them. Tourists and travelers quit stopping in these cities, and their economies declined. Tourists and residents in and around Albuquerque will report to Yelp and GPS driving direction apps to avoid the difficult drive on the historical Route 66 in Albuquerque, thus encouraging no stops in Albuquerque or avoidance of Central/RT 66 by tourists, travelers and residents alike.
We know that Albuquerque needs more money, not less, and therefore cutting into a source of revenue as valuable as tourism makes no sense at all, and that is what the ART project has already done and will continue to do. The city is already $40 million in the hole, they haven’t paid the $25 million for the faulty buses, and the project is not finished due to the many mistakes and ongoing “do overs.”
Block car traffic, block the economy. Block customers, block the economy. Block the trade route, stay on Interstate 40, block the economy. Block the Albuquerque economy, block the N.M. economy. Yes, it’s a domino effect.
Now there is no doubt that Mayor Keller is receiving a lot of advice about ART. Here’s one: “When you’re in a financial hole, quit digging.” The solution may well be, “let’s not throw good money after bad. Pull the plug now!” Because, like the Rail Runner transit route, Albuquerque is a long way from the population density along Central to make ART a transit solution.
If your house is on fire, you don’t call a plumber to fix a leak in the sink. By that I mean that supervising the bus order to satisfactory conclusion is superfluous if the decision must be made to ax ART to save Central Avenue, and with it our economy.