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Mayor: Rapid transit a ‘game changer’ for Route 66 development

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mayor Richard Berry pitched his top transit priority – an express system of buses running up and down Central Avenue – to business leaders Wednesday as a way to spur economic development along the old Route 66 corridor.

Berry said the proposal, known as Albuquerque Rapid Transit, would generate high-density residential and commercial development along the 15-mile route, from Tramway to 98th Street.

A new study, he said, backs up that assertion – if the project is carried out in conjunction with a new ordinance the city is working on to simplify zoning regulations.

“Transit-oriented development is for real,” Berry said. “It really does matter.”

Berry's remarks came in a speech to about 185 people gathered for a meeting of the Economic Forum, a nonpartisan group of business leaders.

The project is intended to mimic light rail, but with buses. The city is seeking federal funding to pay for most of the initial segment – a $100 million project that would cover the 10-mile stretch of Central Avenue between Louisiana and Coors.

City officials say they hope to secure about $80 million in federal money, with the rest from the city or other sources. It would cost about $2 million a year to operate, though the city might seek federal money to offset that, too.

The project has generated opposition from some property and business owners who fear the impact of dedicating so much room within the roadway to a new bus system. Opponents say the project's design would discourage customers from driving on Central – and they're not confident that shoppers would take the new buses.

The buses would have their own dedicated lanes, one in each direction, throughout 90 percent of the route, leaving fewer lanes for cars, trucks and other traffic.

The project has broad support at City Hall, in any case, with both Democrats and Republicans backing the idea, at least in general.

The mayor said Wednesday that large national investors prefer cities with high-density, transit-rich environments. A recent survey of investors and developers ranked Albuquerque last among 20 Western cities for its outlook as a place to invest, he said.

Increasing density, Berry said, would allow many families to get by with, say, one fewer car – providing them a raise of sorts because of the reduced cost, he said.

There would be 25 stations in a 15-mile stretch, with buses running every seven to nine minutes, Berry said.

A decision on federal funding is expected this fall.

“We think it's going to be a game changer in Albuquerque,” the mayor said.

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