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ART’s price tag rises $19 million

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As recently as last week, Mayor Richard Berry’s administration was pitching Albuquerque Rapid Transit as a $100 million proposal.

But the city is now projecting it will cost about $119 million – the result of additions to address community concerns about sidewalks, landscaping and lighting, city officials said.

Despite the increase, Berry said Friday that the funding is in place to carry out the project, once the city gets approval from the Federal Transit Administration to start spending.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for the city of Albuquerque,” Berry, a Republican, said in a news conference.

City Councilor Pat Davis – a Democrat whose district includes Nob Hill, where many business owners are critical of the project – said the increased cost estimate “doesn’t inspire public confidence, particularly from those who say the city is being less than transparent and those who suspect the project will overrun estimates.”

But he said he appreciates “the updates made in response to public input.”

The city Transit Department says the extra costs will help:

  • Add lighting along the Central Avenue corridor between Coors and Louisiana for pedestrians, similar to what’s already in place in Nob Hill.
  • Expand sidewalks where there’s room. Most of the corridor will have sidewalks at least 6 feet wide, up from 3 or 4 feet in places.
  • Install more traffic signals, so pedestrians have additional intersections for safely crossing the street.
A new sign identifies the location of a proposed bus station at Central and Lomas to serve the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

A new sign identifies the location of a proposed bus station at Central and Lomas to serve the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Berry has made the construction of Albuquerque Rapid Transit – a system of express buses that would run in their own dedicated lanes along Central Avenue – a top priority in his second and final term as mayor, which ends in November 2017.

The Obama administration this week recommended over $69 million in “Small Starts” grant funding for the project. The money is not yet final but the city is seeking authorization from the Federal Transit Administration to begin construction, perhaps as early as May.

“We’re confident we have the funding in place,” Berry said Friday.

No project recommended for Small Starts money has failed to get it, he said.

The city expects to receive about $69.7 million through Small Starts. The city has about $30.9 million in other federal funding “ready to go,” Berry said.

The remaining money would come from the city. In April last year, the City Council authorized borrowing $13 million for the project, through bonds repaid by gross receipts tax revenue that would otherwise go into the operating budget.

The city has another $5.4 million in city funds available that can be applied to the project. That includes money from general-obligation bonds approved by voters for “streetscape” and similar improvements.

Michael Riordan, the city’s chief operations officer, said construction could start without any further City Council authorization. The council, however, would eventually have to approve accepting and appropriating the Small Starts grant, officials said.

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