City Councilor Isaac Benton's Statement on Albuquerque Rapid Transit - August 12, 2016
Last Spring, the City Council voted 7-2 to accept a $69 million Federal Transit Administration grant to help serve New Mexico’s most urban, central and vital region. I voted to enhance quality of life through greater transportation options and to generate jobs while recirculating new dollars in our economy .
I’ve heard from many constituents on this issue. I sympathize with their individualized concerns or preferences, but ART is exactly the kind of project that Albuquerque needs to evolve into a modern, thriving metropolis and continue to be a great place for another 300 years.
ART’s design was publicized, developed and submitted over six years. Unfortunately, many in the general public, the media and opponents of the project seem to have not followed its evolution until recently – when it’s on the verge of becoming reality.
Dedicated transit lanes may not have been a requirement for funding, but they are a key tool for reliable transit that can bypass vehicle congestion. The majority of bus rapid transit systems employ the center-lane design, which offers added benefits like traffic calming, and improved visibility and security at stations.
Some volunteer transit designers came up with alternative plans that are perhaps no worse. They unfortunately didn’t mobilize support for those in a timely manner and the city submitted a refinement of the original plans, which were deemed by the Federal Transit Administration worthy of funding. After a very competitive process, the project finally received its grant from the FTA. Under President Obama, we’ve had the most forward-looking transportation infrastructure policy since Abraham Lincoln. (Honest Abe advocated publicly subsidized, but efficient, transportation in the form of canals and railroads.)
Despite doom and gloom from critics, the project is not lacking in support. Many who support it are younger people, the future of Albuquerque, who understand the importance of having first-rate transit on our most important corridor.
I hope they remain vocal in their advocacy by articulating the project’s benefits. Our community would benefit from understanding that this is more for our grandchildren than ourselves.
Notwithstanding my firm belief in the project, I wholeheartedly agree that the city initially did a poor job of outreach to businesses along the route and, to a somewhat lesser extent, to the general public.
While outreach was clearly the responsibility of the administration and its consultants, I’ll take my own responsibility for apparently not better explaining my support for ART, but communication is a two-way street. The Journal and other popular media extensively reported on the project, an original part of Mayor Richard Berry’s “ABQ The Plan,” thus those who cared to could have followed it.
I hope that our community will rally with an open hand to accept this grant so that we can share in the benefits of better infrastructure rather than extending an angry fist. It’s late in the game for us to now backpedal on what took years to develop.
This is not only a question of what’s best for our future, but also of whether we should turn down a $69 million shot in the arm that our economy desperately needs.
My continued support of ART boils down to this:
- I support high-quality mass transit for young, elderly, physically challenged and working people.
- We must calm traffic with the Complete Streets, which this project will fund and build.
- I strongly support local small business, which prospers with walkable streets and good transit.
- I respect younger generations that want to live in walkable neighborhoods and not be car-dependent.
- I understand the realities and often insurmountable costs of public works construction; major transportation improvements don’t happen without federal assistance.
Despite having opposed most of “ABQ the Plan” and other ideas of the mayor, I’ll not join those who oppose a good project for political reasons. This issue represents a turning point for the city as a whole, a city that I love, and I’m sad to see so much acrimony over it.
City Councilor for District 2 (2012-present) and District 3 (2005-2012).