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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former Mayor Richard Berry pushed for Albuquerque Rapid Transit, saying it would be a transformational project for Central Avenue. While there have been numerous setbacks, ART finally launched Saturday. Below are key dates for the project:
City plans to use $1 million in federal funding to study the feasibility of a dedicated bus lane on Central Avenue, from Tramway to the far West Side, a concept known as bus rapid transit.
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2012: City hosts a series of public meetings to gather input on a possible bus rapid transit system on Central.
NOVEMBER 2013: Mayor Richard Berry, in his first State of the City address since winning reelection to a second term, says the city will pursue a bus rapid transit system and there is great demand along Central.
MARCH 2014: The Journal reports that the Federal Transit Administration has approved the city’s plans for bus rapid transit along Central, opening the door for federal matching funds. City is designing a 17-mile bus rapid transit route along Central from Tramway to 98th on the West side. Berry says he hopes to open the first segment before his term ends Nov. 30, 2017.
NOVEMBER 2014: NAIOP and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce say the city needs a bus rapid transit system.
APRIL 2015: City Council approves a bond package that includes $13 million to make Central fit for bus rapid transit. City hosts meetings on its plans. Berry administration identifies a segment along Central from Louisiana to Coors where the city would build a $100 million system of express buses. City says passengers could be boarding Albuquerque Rapid Transit in September 2017.
JULY 2015: Administration assures federal government in an application aimed at avoiding a lengthy environmental review that ART isn’t likely to generate intense public discussion or controversy. That representation is later used as grounds for litigation seeking to stop the project.
AUGUST 2015: FTA approves exemption to environmental review for ART. City plans to seek $80 million in federal funds.
FEBRUARY 2016: Businesses in Nob Hill and other neighborhoods along Central display signs opposing ART, which is now expected to cost $119 million, up from $100 million.
The FTA recommends a $69 million Small Starts grant for ART. Funding is included in President Barack Obama’s budget proposal. Public meeting erupts with shouts of opposition as city officials attempt to explain ART. Several public meetings follow with opponents arguing that the project would choke traffic on Central and harm small businesses.
MARCH 2016: City officials say that besides the nearly $70 million recommended by the Obama administration for ART, the city has $31 million in other federal funds available and $18 million in city sources that can go toward the $119 million project. More than 150 businesses oppose the project. But major employers along the route, including the University of New Mexico, Presbyterian Healthcare Services and several business organizations, support it.
City councilors vote 7-2 March 21 to authorize acceptance of nearly $70 million in federal money for ART. The grant hasn’t been approved yet, but city executives are confident they will get the money because Obama included it in his budget recommendation.
APRIL 2016: ART opponents file two lawsuits to halt the project.
JULY 2016: Berry says city will buy 18 60-foot-long electric buses for ART. City is in negotiations with BYD for the buses, estimated to cost roughly $24 million, or $7 million more than diesel buses. Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, throws its support behind ART.
City announces it has the federal approval it needs to start spending on construction for ART. Final approval for the main $69 million federal grant is still pending. Federal judge denies request for a preliminary injunction to halt ART. ART opponents appeal days later, preventing construction from commencing.
AUGUST 2016: Federal appeals court grants emergency motion to allow the city to resume preconstruction activity for ART. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently lifts its injunction that had barred the city from tearing up the roadway and beginning work. Some construction begins.
SEPTEMBER 2016: Berry administration signs $82.6 million contract that calls for local construction company Bradbury Stamm to finish work on ART in 16 months, or by late 2017. Heavy construction to begin the following month.
DECEMBER 2016: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirms a lower court ruling that allowed the project to move forward.
AUGUST 2017: Berry unveils ART’s first electric bus at Civic Plaza.
SEPTEMBER 2017: In his final State of the City address, Berry says ART is about 80 percent finished and is ahead of schedule. He says the city is seeing building permits along the corridor totaling $337 million.
NOVEMBER 2017: Official says ART will offer limited service Nov. 25 and is scheduled to start full ticketed service Jan. 1.
Berry, along with dozens of officials and citizens, take a ceremonial first ride on one of the ART electric buses Nov. 25. Officials announce that the project is partially operational and will offer free rides to and from the BioPark’s River of Lights. ART spokeswoman Joanie Griffin says seven of ART’s buses are operating, and the total fleet will be ready by the end of the year. Later that night, an ART bus collides with a driver who makes an illegal left turn. No one is injured, and the bus sustains no major damage. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, meanwhile, awards ART the institute’s Gold Standard for Bus Rapid Transit designation.
DECEMBER 2017: Griffin says heavy construction on ART won’t be done until year-end. New Mayor Tim Keller and his administration begin hinting at problems with ART.
JAN. 9, 2018: At a news conference on ART, city officials reveal major problems, including significant issues with the buses. Keller calls ART “a bit of a lemon” and won’t venture a guess on when it might be running.
JAN. 10, 2018: BYD, in a statement, pledges to work overtime to resolve the issues with its buses.
MAY 2018: Keller announces that major construction on ART stations has been completed.
JUNE 2018: Albuquerque’s inspector general releases a report on ART after a five-month review. It concludes in part that the inspectors the city sent to BYD’s California plant to review buses being manufactured for ART had not been properly trained and that pressure from top city administrators to deliver the first bus prompted the company to release a vehicle that did not meet the city’s specifications. It also finds that the city funded construction using general obligation bonds that taxpayers intended to be used for other projects and that the city selected contractors using an “ad hoc advisory committee” that included high-level city officials instead of professors from local universities, members from city commissions and officials from county or state agencies that have similar services.
JULY 2018: The city begins training drivers on the ART buses, which city officials say revealed mechanical problems. “What we found during the first week was that buses had air conditioning outages and door malfunctions,” then-city Transit Director Bernie Toon later said when describing the training effort. “We were communicating these issues to BYD when bolts began to fall off doors, and rear doors would open during bus operation without any action by the driver.”
AUGUST 2018: The city announces it has secured $75 million in federal funding for the project, which Keller had said was in limbo due to federal budget uncertainty and issues with the city’s application and project design flaws.
NOVEMBER 2018: The city rejects all 15 electric buses delivered by BYD Motors, citing insufficient battery life, brake problems and other mechanical issues. BYD disputes the city’s claims, with a spokesman saying its “buses and batteries are safe.” Keller tells the Journal his administration has ordered some nonelectric buses from a different manufacturer.
DECEMBER 2018: Albuquerque sues BYD Motors, alleging breach of contract, breach of warranties, fraudulent misrepresentation and more.
MAY 2019: The city settles its lawsuit against BYD Motors. While the city does not receive any damages, the agreement terminates both parties’ obligations under the 2017 purchase agreement. That relieves the city of its responsibility to buy $22 million of the company’s buses.
JUNE 2019: The city reveals the first ART bus delivered by New Flyer of America, part of a 20-bus order of diesel vehicles. The turquoise buses have doors on both sides, allowing for pickups at ART’s center-lane stations and at the curbside.
NOV. 8, 2019: Keller announces that ART service will begin Nov. 30, coinciding with Small Business Saturday, and that all 20 buses ordered from New Flyer of America have arrived. The mayor calls it “one of the first positive announcements we’ve gotten about this project.”
SOURCE: Journal archives