Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Construction on the roadway, intersections and stations is nearing an end on the controversial “Project Lemonade,” as Mayor Tim Keller has nicknamed the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, but the city still doesn’t know when the buses that run the route will be ready to use, and when, or if, federal funding to pay for ART will come through.
Keller said the administration remains “hopeful” that the city will receive the federal funding through the Federal Transit Administration, but emphasized no funds have been promised yet.
“I think that this notion that somehow we’re just waiting for guaranteed funds is factually inaccurate and it always was,” Keller said.
Albuquerque received a “letter of no prejudice” expressing support for the project, which will provide a rapid-ride electric bus system along Central Avenue, in 2016. Then-Mayor Richard Berry said at the time that every city that had received such a letter from the FTA ended up getting the funding.
But Keller pointed out that all such letters also contain the sentence: “The authority to incur costs provided in this letter does not constitute an FTA commitment that future federal dollars will be approved for this project.”
Keller said the city continues to follow FTA guidelines needed to receive the $75 million Small Starts grant “so we’re ready to apply for funding as soon as it’s authorized as part of the (federal) budget process.”
Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael had painted a bleaker picture during a Feb. 21 meeting with Journal editors and reporters when he described the odds of receiving the money to be “50-50” and said the decision to fund lies with Congress, the Trump administration and FTA.
Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta said Tuesday that another $31 million in federal funding is expected from eight, smaller grants.
Problems persist with the 16 buses received by manufacturer Build Your Dreams, also known as BYD, and the city will be sending back the six latest buses it received.
“With respect to the buses, on Friday, March 2, we did send a latter to BYD … letting them know that we will be sending back six buses that they brought us over the weekend of February 18,” Keller said during a Tuesday news conference.
The city will also return bus 1701, the very first bus received.
Problems range from cracks in exterior panels and battery casings to leaking wheel hubs.
“BYD has said they plan to send four more buses this week, as soon as the seat frames and inserts arrive at their plant,” Rael said. “However, we will not take delivery of these buses until the issues with the other buses are resolved.”
Rael did mention that an issue with the bus side mirrors hitting the platforms was fixed by adjusting the length of the mirrors.
After BYD blew several deadlines for delivering the buses starting in October 2017, Keller and Rael declined to give a specific timeline on repair and delivery of all 20 buses.
“We are confident that at some point this year we are going to get ART up and running, but anything more specific would be premature until we can understand when exactly we are going to get fully operating buses that meet all the specifications that we outlined in the first place,” Keller said.
Another issue that remains to be worked out is the battery durability of the buses.
The contract calls for buses that can operate for 275 miles, but the city claims it can’t get more than 210 miles out of them before they need recharging.
BYD officials have said that mileage would likely be extended as drivers receive training and experience on the buses.
“The 60-foot K-11 buses have a maximum range of 283 miles – dependent on variables such as speed, braking, topography, climate, regeneration, etc.,” BYD spokesman Gerges Scott said in an emailed statement. “According to the City of Albuquerque the buses will be traveling between 14 mph and 16 mph. At these speeds with properly trained drivers on the ART route the buses should get approximately 275 miles per charge. The buses were designed to meet this range based on the specifications provided by the city.”
Scott said one of the buses reached 283 miles on one charge laden with the weight of 119 people during testing in August 2017.
Meanwhile, construction on the stations, roads and intersections should be completed by the end of the spring, Keller said.
“The good news is a lot of the areas that we can control as a city, we’ve made some significant progress on,” Keller said.
Work is underway on the pavement beside the ART platform in the westbound lane at Atrisco, which was angled and did not allow buses to properly rest beside it.
That work should be completed by next week.
Other work needed to come into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is underway or already completed.