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Feds approve $75 million for ART bus project


Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says the city will receive $75 million from the federal government for the ART project. The announcement was made after the ground breaking on renovations to the Central and Unser Transit Center. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The city has secured $75 million from the federal government to pay for the long-awaited Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, Mayor Tim Keller said Tuesday.

Funding will come in two installments through the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts Program, the mayor said.

Previous federal budget uncertainty, along with initial application and design problems, left funding in limbo for almost a year, according to the Keller administration.

During a news conference, Keller said city officials have worked diligently to revise the application for the Small Starts Program and kept in close contact with the FTA to update the agency on recent developments.

“Our team invested time, sweat and energy into recouping our city’s funds for building the ART project, and now we have word from the Federal Transit Administration that a big portion of the federal funding is on the way,” Keller said. “This outcome alleviates the burden of having to cover the cost of the project with city funds or new tax dollars.”

The project, which was started under the administration of former Mayor Richard Berry, has been a long road for the city, Keller said.

“There is still a ways to go, but at least now we can balance the books with our residents’ tax dollars restored,” he said.

Earlier this year, city officials coordinated with New Mexico’s congressional delegation to include funding in this year’s federal budget.

“This federal reimbursement is a testament to the work and strong partnership of all the stakeholders involved, and ensures that the city has the flexibility to invest in other infrastructure programs that improve our transportation system and create jobs,” Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said in a statement. “Despite the numerous and serious issues associated with this project, we were able to work together with community members and the congressional delegation to find a solution for the people we represent.”

The funding announced Tuesday is in addition to the $14 million announced by Keller in June that will reimburse the city for expenses related to construction on Central Avenue.

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 construction, comes at a cost of $135 million.

Major construction on bus stops and roads is complete.

The city has worked with BYD, a California-based bus manufacturer, to address battery life problems with the specialized electric buses purchased for the route and has secured a commitment from the company to install charging stations at each end of the ART route.

“We’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Gerges Scott, BYD’s Albuquerque representative. “We’re really happy that the drivers are getting their training. We’re happy that we’re able to provide the solution to the batteries.”

An ART bus driver trains along Central Avenue near Edith earlier this month. Drivers are undergoing a training session lasting 12-14 weeks. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Bus drivers are undergoing 12 to 14 weeks of training to learn how to use the nine-mile ART corridor and the bus platforms. While buses are on the training routes, the city is working on the timing of traffic control lights and driver education, so traffic patterns are as safe and efficient as possible.

The city’s Transit Department also plans a public education campaign to help Albuquerque drivers and pedestrians stay safe, and to provide information needed to use the new traffic lanes and transportation platforms.

Also on Tuesday, city officials broke ground on a new transit center at the intersection of Central and Unser NW, which will double in size to accommodate the upcoming ART service while also making updates to enhance service for both the ART buses and the five bus routes that stop there.

The Central and Unser Transit Center has anchored four ABQ RIDE routes and one Rio Metro route for more than 14 years.

The new center will also be equipped with two electric charging stations for ART buses to use once service begins.