Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque will receive $14 million toward the long-awaited Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, courtesy of a Federal Transit Administration grant.
The $14 million will reimburse the city for expenses related to roadwork on Central Avenue.
Mayor Tim Keller in a news conference Monday at the Uptown Transit Center said the federal government is still considering the city's application for $75 million from the FTA's Capital Investment Program for the project.
“This is very good news in that we have some money coming through the door,” Keller said. “We're in constant contact with the FTA on this in that we continue to meet all the criteria. It is still a choice, so we may or may not get that funding, but we're working on a deadline for that so we can start planning on whether we're going to get that or not.”
Keller said FTA officials are giving the city “signals that in early fall” the agency will come to a decision on the $75 million grant.
“No matter how you cut it, we're excited to get the $14 million,” he said. “It does make a substantial dent in the amount of money that we owe ourselves as a city to fully fund this project.”
ART has been billed as a project that would transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a stretch of bus-only lanes and stations. The project, including associated utility and road work, comes at a cost of $135 million.
Major construction on bus stops and road work is complete.
Buses and batteries
Electric buses from California-based BYD, worth nearly $23 million, were originally scheduled for delivery last year. But so far, the city has received only 15 of the 20 buses.
Many delays and problems surrounding the project center on the electric buses and, specifically, battery life. Albuquerque had been projected to become the first city in the nation to run all-electric 60-foot buses.
The contract calls for buses that can operate for 275 miles, but Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael said the buses can't go more than 177 miles before they need recharging.
That means adding more charging stations – two stations at the Uptown Transit Center, two at Tramway and Wenonah SE, and two at Unser and Central NW, Rael said.
“This will give us the opportunity to top off the tank, in that while the buses are waiting to start, they'll top off the batteries the best we can so we can keep the buses circulating in the corridor,” Rael said. “This is a result of BYD's failure to meet the specs as they were initiated by the city.”
Rael said that after negotiations, BYD is expected to fund the additional charging stations. Construction for the additional stations will start in the next few months, he said, with a goal of finishing them by late fall.
Rael also said BYD would retrofit the buses with new batteries as the technology improves in future years.
Gerges Scott, BYD's Albuquerque representative, said the company will continue partnering with city officials in an effort to commence the project as soon as possible.
“The company continues to work with the city to make sure both the administration and the citizens are well served,” Scott said. “We want to be sure all parties are satisfied.”
Keller said he maintains hope that an interim operation could start as soon as late fall using fewer electric buses.
The mayor has proposed using a combination of electric buses and compressed natural gas or clean diesel buses, but on Monday he said that would likely delay the project's operating timeline by years.
“We're putting these charging stations all over the route so the batteries can meet the specs to run the route,” he said.
Bus driver training
Transit Department Director Bernie Toon said a 14-week bus driver training program in the ART corridor will start July 27.
“One of the key elements to starting service is to have our bus drivers get used to operating the electric buses in the ART guideway,” Toon said. “Training will include docking at the stations, among other driving exercises that our drivers will do.”
Toon said Albuquerque police will be watchful during that period to ensure regular vehicle traffic doesn't impede bus training. He said APD will look for and use a warning process to educate drivers who cross over into the ART lanes to make illegal left turns.
“This will be prohibited in the future and in our operating tempo,” he said. “The driving public should remember that left turns in crossing the bus lanes is illegal. Observing the law will increase safety for everyone sharing the road.”
Toon said the training period will also give the agency knowledge on how the buses perform during regular use and identify potential problems.
Motorists can find more information and a video about the signal system on Central Avenue by visiting cabq.gov/transit.