Albuquerque is seeking federal funding to build new transit infrastructure in order to help relieve an already overburdened system.
The item proposed is a 10-mile bus lane down Central Avenue, from Louisiana Boulevard to Coors Boulevard. Dayna Crawford, deputy director of Albuquerque’s transit department, said they intend to break ground in May and be in operation by September 2017.
“It will improve (the present system), to begin with, because we’re running behind. People can’t depend on it to get to work or class,” she said. “Basically, we’re wanting to upgrade our system to the more modern transportation system. It’s the next logical step.”
The lane would be distinguished by colored concrete and a rumble strip to separate bus and traffic lanes, she said. The route will have twenty stops, with ticketing stations every quarter- to half-mile.
Those using the transit could expect a bus every seven minutes, Crawford said.
“We ought to be able to improve our performance by fifteen percent, to begin with, just to be more dependable,” she said. “You don’t have to have a schedule or anything, you just walk up there and in seven minutes you know the next one will be coming by, in one direction or the other.”
Crawford said passengers will buy tickets at the stations or on their smart phones/computers before boarding, which will allow them to board quickly. It will also be easily accessible: the stations are 14 inches off the ground, allowing smooth wheelchair and cyclist access.
In addition, if a bus is running late, it communicates with traffic signals at intersections to get green stoplights.
Crawford said both the stations and buses themselves will have Wi-Fi along with charging stations for public access.
Before deciding on the exact proposal, Crawford said the mayor asked ABQ RIDE to research what would be the best match for the city’s current transit system.
Most larger cities in the US have a modern mass transit system, “so he had this vision and wanted to make sure that we could keep up,” Crawford said.
Much research was done to decide where the line would run, eventually landing on Central after it was determined that 42 percent of ridership is along Central.
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Public outreach for the project began in the fall of 2012, she said. Since then they have received more than 150 letters of support, which were included in their application.
The grant for federal government funding was submitted last August, with a request to cover 80 percent of the project costs
Crawford said it’s a $10 million-per-mile project, resulting in a cost of $100 million.
“It’s basically pennies on the dollar,” she said, speaking on comparison to light rail or heavy rail transit. “It’s actually much cheaper. To do any of those others it’s a minimum of 65 million dollars a mile.”
The City Council approved $13 million to start the project.
“So that’s where we’re getting the money, the city has to commit financially,” Crawford said.
Crawford said she believes the benefits of the project would largely outweigh the costs.
But not everyone agrees. UNM student Polo Ansencion, who uses the current transit system to commute, said the change is unnecessary.
“It’s not needed. Think about it: it’s not wide enough, and would be too costly. They’ve already tried that many, many years ago,” Ansencion said. “It’s just not practical. Put the money somewhere else.”
Others think the change would be a welcome innovation, including Jennifer Sublasky, a senior science major who rides the bus to catch a train home.
“It would be better if there were more buses, like shorter time periods,” Sublasky said. “I wouldn’t have to worry so much about making the bus if it ran every seven minutes.”
A study done by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, based out of Chicago, found that the ART project could bring anywhere from $2 to $3 billion worth of economic development along the corridor.
“We really look at this like, ‘yes, this is a transit project,’” Crawford said. “But the potential to drive that much growth along that corridor is very important to the community at this point.”
The project will make some radical changes that will provide pedestrian improvements, she said. For example, the Nob Hill sidewalk will be widened, resulting in potential for outdoor dining and more.
Crawford said the median would have to be completely removed from Nob Hill, with the bus lane replacing it and running right down the middle of Central.
The extra room acquired will go to the sidewalks, she said — an additional 4 to 6 feet. As a result, there would be one traffic lane going each way between Girard and Carlisle. For Nob Hill, this means slowing traffic down, wider sidewalks and pedestrian improvement.
“That’s what the neighborhood wanted,” Crawford said. “It will help provide more jobs, create places people want to come and go, to and from.”
Crawford said if they are approved for funding and go forward with the project, there are already additional plans for the future.
They are working with Rio Metro, who is looking to develop another route that would run from the airport to the UNM Health Sciences Center. Additional plans include a route across Paseo and Coors.
“So that’s eventually where we’ll be,” she said. “That gives us a grid to work and build off, to accommodate the numbers of people that we anticipate being here.”
Matthew Reisen is a staff reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.