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Rapid transit system may add $11 to consumers’ water bills

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque’s water utility says it would cost at least $4.2 million – and maybe up to $30 million – to replace or upgrade water and sewer lines to accommodate the city’s proposed rapid transit bus system.

David Morris, water utility public affairs manager, said that if the utility did not get state funding to help cover those costs, it would have to increase rates by up to as much as 20 percent over two years to finance the work. A 20 percent rate increase, he said, would mean about $11 more per month for the average residential customer.

At a meeting Wednesday, the governing board of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority will consider a recommendation to request $30 million in state money to pay for pipeline replacement required by the rapid transit program.

But Dayna Crawford, manager of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, said the $30 million cost is news to her.

“In our project coordination meetings with the water utility authority, estimates have been as low as $5 million for the utility improvements,” Crawford said.

The rapid transit program, which is dependent upon the city securing $100 million in mostly federal funding, consists of an express system of buses running in special lanes along Central Avenue. The initial route would be a 10-mile stretch between Louisiana and Coors. If funding comes through, work could start in 2016.

According to the franchise agreement between the city and the water utility, the utility is required to modify the placement of its utilities for city projects.

Morris said the engineering firm hired by the utility to analyze costs associated with the rapid transit system studied a stretch between Louisiana and Unser. The analysis identified high- and extreme-risk pipe segments and analyzed design conflicts for the proposed bus stations, streetlights and traffic signal foundations.

“We look to see, for example, if putting a traffic light foundation in would conflict with sewer or water lines,” Morris said. “In terms of addressing conflicts with the planned rapid transit structure, we know that $4.2 million in work will be required. We expect that number will go up as plans for additional rapid transit segments are completed. If we were to rehabilitate all of what we have identified as high or extreme risks along that corridor, we estimate that would cost another $26 million.”

Morris said there is no way to be sure at this point whether all, part of or none of the estimated $26 million would be needed. He said the recommendation to seek $30 million from the state is based on the high-end estimate.

Morris said that the utility typically spends no more than $2 million a year on city franchise work and that most of the utility’s annual rehabilitation budget of $30 million goes toward an aging infrastructure in critical need of repair. The utility raised rates in 2013 and this year, and will raise rates again in 2017 to help pay for those repairs. Those rate hikes mean an increase of $4 to $5 a month for the typical homeowner.

Crawford said the rapid transit project is an opportunity to replace the crumbling water and sewer infrastructure.

“We are glad that the water utility authority is planning on not just replacing old water lines, but has included a number of enhancements to improve reliability for businesses along the route,” she said.

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