It looks like we're get some answers this afternoon about the problems plaguing what is quickly becoming the infamous $134 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.
At 2:30 this afternoon, Mayor Tim Keller “will hold a press briefing to discuss the current status of ART, including unresolved issues that have been identified with the project,” Keller's office said in a news release.
And ART is on the verge of earning the title of “infamous.” The city is facing a $75 million deficit on the project because the Federal Transit Administration still hasn't approved it for funding. Yet the city under then-Mayor Richard Berry started construction on the project last October even though it did not have the federal grant approval.
The former administration had hoped to have ART operational – and the $75 million from the feds - by now, but that hasn't happened. The latest estimates are that ART won't be operational until March at the earliest.
Since construction of ART is nearly complete, there has never been an accounting from the city about where it got the extra money to pay for it. The city had $57 million on hand in previous federal grants and city revenue bond money to kick off construction. But, the previous administration never answered questions about where the additional $75 million had come from.
Nor has the city ever answered questions about why the feds have yet to approve ART.
There were other problems that have surfaced about the project, including questions about whether it complies with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Additionally, the city doesn't have all of the electric buses it needs to make the project operational.
Earlier this year, City Councilor Ken Sanchez said on a radio show that one of the ART buses had been rendered inoperable because city workers had overcharged its battery. The city told ABQReport that the problem was related to circuit board that blew when it was inserted into the bus, and not to overcharging the battery.
Motorists along Central Avenue have complained that the left-hand turn lanes and signals along ART's nine-mile route are confusing and dangerous.
The biggest concern, though, is whether the FTA will ever actually approve the project and give the city the $75 million it was hoping for.
Again, Berry's administration started building ART without approval from the FTA. Here's what the FTA's website says about projects like ART that seek funding under the agency's Capital Investment Grant program:
“FTA does not sign a construction grant agreement committing CIG funding until after the project sponsor has demonstrated that its project is ready for such an agreement. This includes assurance that the project’s development and design have progressed to the point where its scope, costs, benefits, and impacts are considered firm and final, the project sponsor has obtained all non-CIG funding commitments, and the project sponsor has completed all critical third party agreements.”
The FTA also says this about projects that didn't have a funding agreement as of the beginning of the current federal fiscal year:
“The FY 2018 proposal limits funding for the CIG Program to projects with existing full funding grant agreements. Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”