ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected an emergency motion that aimed to halt construction of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.
The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t explain its decision. It simply said that a panel of judges assigned to the case had denied the motion after considering the arguments filed by opponents, the city and Federal Transit Administration.
Construction crews working for the city of Albuquerque have been ripping out medians and carrying out other work along Central Avenue this month to prepare for a new bus rapid transit system. The project involves creation of a nine-mile corridor of bus-only lanes and bus stops – largely in the middle of Central, between Louisiana and Coors.
Opponents said the city started work prematurely because the FTA has not yet awarded the grant funds that would pay for most of the project. They also said the construction created intense traffic congestion, proving their point that the project would harm neighborhoods and businesses along the route.
The city and FTA, in turn, said there was no legal barrier to the start of work.
City executives remain confident that they ultimately will get the FTA grant, and they say they are following the same timeline that’s been used for similar projects elsewhere in the country.
The litigation, however, isn’t over. The 10th Circuit is still considering an appeal filed by opponents of the project.
The court has refused two times, though, to halt construction while it considers each side’s legal arguments.
The city bears the risk of starting work before the court makes a final decision.
Mayor Richard Berry’s administration has made the project a priority. He and other supporters say the new bus system will provide fast, reliable service in a critical city corridor and spur redevelopment along the route, which includes stops in Downtown, in Nob Hill, by the University of New Mexico and on the West Side.
Opponents say the project will damage the car-friendly charm of what was once Route 66 and push customers away from merchants in the area.
They say the removal of regular traffic lanes to make way for bus-only lanes will leave Central too congested.