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ART project being reviewed by city

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The City of Albuquerque on Wednesday confirmed there is an ongoing review of the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.

The review, being done by city Inspector General David Harper, is examining processes and procedures involved in the project.

“As a former state auditor, I appreciate the value and importance of the Inspector General’s independent investigation and we look forward to getting to the bottom of this,” Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement.

Harper was quick to distinguish between reviews and investigations, which are typically reactive and initiated after allegations of fraud, misconduct or other crimes.

“About two months ago I decided, ‘Let’s look at the funding aspect of the project overall,'” Harper said. “My concern, of course, was that we still haven’t received funds.”

Harper was referencing the $75 million in federal funding from the Federal Transit Administration, which has not yet been received.

Harper said that while the administration of Mayor Richard Berry had reassured the public the money would come through, the new administration seems more “cautious.”

“There’s a risk,” he said. “That’s kind of what I’m looking at, to see what the process used was so far and make sure that we’re in compliance with federal, state laws and local ordinances because I think we need to give transparency to the taxpayer.”

After beginning the review in November, Harper said he expanded its scope to include quality issues with the ART buses, whether bus maker BYD complied with the Buy America Act and possible ADA compliance issues.

Harper said he expects to complete the review in four to six weeks, after which a public report will be issued.

He also plans on initiating a “low level” investigation of a city Transit Department employee involved in the ART project involved in possible misconduct.

ART is likely to become the subject of a review at the state level, too.

State Auditor Wayne Johnson said his office has completed initial fact-finding after receiving multiple requests for a review of how ART dollars are being spent.

“From everything we’ve gathered, it’ll be something we want to do,” Johnson said, adding that they have not received allegations of any criminal wrongdoing at this point.

Like Harper, Johnson said he’ll also be looking at procurement and planning processes.

ART is a bus system that was planned and construction was launched under Berry’s administration. When finished, there will be a designated bus lane that runs along nine miles of Central Avenue.

Last month, Keller described the project as “a bit of a lemon.” He said the city was working to address so many problems with the bus system that he wouldn’t guess when the project will be finished.