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ART won’t improve bus service, professor says

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

A civil-engineering professor hired by opponents of Albuquerque Rapid Transit came to this conclusion: The project may not actually improve bus service.

In fact, he said, it will degrade the performance of the “66” line running along Central Avenue and may not match the “Rapid Ride” system it’s designed to replace.

The analysis by Gregory Rowangould, a University of New Mexico professor who reviewed traffic studies done for the city, is part of the lawsuit filed by opponents challenging the project.

The “project as currently designed appears to do more harm than good,” he said in a 31-page report.

The city, in turn, says Rowangould is relying on an outdated traffic study that fails to include design changes that will improve traffic performance. Rowangould’s review is based on two studies the city submitted to the Federal Transit Administration last year as part of its application.

Michael Riordan, Albuquerque’s chief operations officer, says the project will make it easier for people to get on the bus and reach their destinations faster than under the current system.

At stake is a priority project of Mayor Richard Berry – a proposal to build a nine-mile network of bus-only lanes and bus stations in the middle of Central Avenue, roughly between Coors and Louisiana. Most of the project, called Albuquerque Rapid Transit, is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and opponents who object to the design are asking a federal judge to order a halt to the project.

Berry and other supporters of the $119 million project say it’s a cost-effective way to improve mass-transit service along Central Avenue. It’s much cheaper than a light-rail system, and it’ll make the area more attractive for redevelopment, supporters say.

But to make way for the dedicated ART lanes, the city would remove a lane now used by general traffic. In Nob Hill, for instance, there would be only one lane each way for regular traffic, not two as there are now – a 50 percent reduction in traffic capacity, Rowangould says, leading to increased congestion.

Rowangould argues that the extra traffic will harm the regular “66” bus service that runs up and down Central. Those buses are supposed to use the general lanes of traffic, not the dedicated ART-only lanes.

And the larger ART buses can’t entirely avoid the traffic, either, Rowangould said. That’s because there are points in the route – under Interstate 25 and in the Downtown area – where the ART vehicles don’t have a dedicated lane and must operate amid regular traffic.

Overall, then, the ART buses may only match the on-time performance of the “Rapid Ride” buses already in place, or even do worse, Rowangould said.

Riordan flatly disagrees.

The dedicated lanes will help ART buses reach intersections faster than they would otherwise, he said, and the buses will communicate with traffic signals to get priority when they arrive, even under I-25. There shouldn’t be increased congestion Downtown, because there are no lane changes in that area, he said.

Altogether, the city estimates that ART buses will arrive every 7 to 8 minutes at their stops, much faster than the 15-minute times for Rapid Ride, Riordan said.

The smaller “66” buses will also be able to use the ART lanes when necessary to “ensure equal, if not improved, service times,” he said.

“The opposition is using a two-year-old traffic study that did not include any of the traffic improvements that we have now included in the project design,” Riordan said in written statement to the Journal .

Rowangould said the studies he reviewed are the most recent ones available to the public on the project’s website – those the city submitted to the federal government.

Opponents of Albuquerque Rapid Transit are seeking a preliminary injunction in federal court to stop the project, and they submitted Rowangould’s review as part of their case.

The city, meanwhile, has said it plans to begin construction in late July, assuming it gets the necessary federal approvals to start work.

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