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Take a deep breath, focus on positives of ABQ’s ART project

Over the past six months, there has been a lot of back and forth about the ART (Albuquerque Rapid Transit) project, culminating in the latest drama fallout from the Inspector General’s (IG’s) report. We’ve witnessed considerable “in-the-news” finger-pointing – not to mention genuine concerns about the $75 million in federal funding, or lack thereof, that the previous administration assured us was coming. We’ve also heard a lot about bus deliveries, design and engineering oversights and the many delays caused by construction, and reconstruction.

If you live in Albuquerque and ventured anywhere near Central Avenue and ART over the past few years, chances are you’ve not been thrilled with any of this. But I have not penned this opinion piece to add fuel to an already smoldering fire. Instead, I am writing to suggest we all take a deep breath and focus on the long game versus our short-term frustrations.

ART can never be all things for all people. But it will provide significant benefits to our community. It also sends an important message to citizens and outsiders alike: Albuquerque is focused on the future and is committed to innovative public transportation and a healthier environment for all of us. Mayor Tim Keller is right when he points that out.

Of course, the electric buses are a big part of this. I get it: range on an electric bus matters and BYD, the bus manufacturer, has offered solutions including installing more charging infrastructure along the route – on its dime, not ours.

But in the larger ART conversation, it is the electric buses that should be celebrated. Based on the Journal’s reporting, the city won’t even have to pay for these buses until well into 2019. Not only are they union-built in California, but the environmental benefits they bring to our community are perfectly aligned with the Keller administration’s efforts, such as the recently announced plan to add solar to city buildings. The BYD buses were also key to the city being awarded the highly coveted “Gold Standard” for ART by The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy – something no other U.S. community had ever received.

And while the recent IG report appears to generate more questions than answers – mostly centered on the previous administration’s apparent lack of project oversight – we cannot afford to let this be our lingering focus. Instead, we must look at the only concrete that really matters – the facts and figures related to the environmental benefits of ART.

According to my calculations, and based on information taken from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website, every zero-emission bus eliminates approximately 1,690 tons of CO2 over a 12-year period. This is equivalent to taking 27 cars off the road. These buses also eliminate approximately 10 tons of nitrogen oxides and 350 pounds of diesel particulate matter.

So, considering Albuquerque will have 20 electric buses, this works out to taking approximately 540 cars off the road and 33,800 tons of CO2 out of our air – not to mention roughly 200 tons of nitrogen oxides and 7,000 pounds of diesel particulate matter.

When I said, “take a deep breath” earlier, I should have prefaced that with “only if we stick with these electric buses.” I for one am thrilled that we are on the eve of significantly improving Albuquerque’s overall air quality – and to combating environmental degradation and climate change. But that won’t happen if we take short-cuts like integrating compressed natural gas buses or diesel hybrids into ART.

I am relieved that Mayor Keller is taking the helm and steering the ART ship off of the rocks. But we, the Albuquerque taxpayers, voters and business owners, must remember that ART and these electric buses takes us in a direction that is good for Albuquerque, good for New Mexico and good for the planet. It’s worth it.

The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project is a public interest organization promoting greater energy efficiency in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.


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