Citizens Fight Transit Plan on Route 66

     ALBUQUERQUE (CN) – Citizens and businesses have sued Albuquerque, claiming its $120 million rapid transit plan will ruin dozens of historic sites on Route 66.
     Ten of the 14 miles of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit plan, or ART, will dedicate the median on Central Avenue to rapid transit buses.
     The federal government will supply $110 million for the project, and the city about $16.4 million, according to the federal lawsuit, whose numbers do not add up.
     (The April 4 lawsuit from lead plaintiff The Coalition of Concerned Citizens to Make ART Smart says the project will cost $119 million: $109.9 million from federal sources and $16.4 million from the city.)
     The city claims the project, years in the making, will bring “quick, simple, and safe first-class travel along with economic benefits” for businesses along the route.
     But both lawsuits, including one in Bernalillo County Court from lead plaintiff Maria Bautista, says the project will disrupt dozens of businesses, snarl traffic, impede pedestrians-further disrupting businesses, and that the city’s lightly used bus system shows that the project is not needed.
     Both lawsuits also claim that the ART project will affect or destroy at least 48 sites on Route 66 that are on the National Historic Registry.
     The federal complaint, whose plaintiffs include building owners, coffee shop owners, consultants, and the citizen coalition, claims the city ran roughshod over federally mandated environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, claiming – falsely – that the project will not significantly affect travel.
     Plaintiffs in the state complaint, including three restaurants three auto businesses, Route 66 Apartments, a convenience store, a barbershop, the nonprofit El Chante: Casino De Cultura focus more on the impact to historical sites.
     They say more than 150 places on the National Historic Register will be affected by the ART line, and that the city did not perform state historic preservation office reviews, nor local historic reviews before agreeing to fund the project. Landmarks that will be affected include Monte Vista Elementary School and the historic Nob Hill fire station.
     They say ART will not only snarl traffic on Central Avenue, but divert traffic onto side streets and secondary arteries during and after construction: small streets that may not be able to handle strain.
     John McCall, attorney for the plaintiffs in the state case, said his clients are “concerned about several issues in the project that the majority of people in Albuquerque and along Central Avenue have identified as wrongheaded, to say the least.”
     “This project has caught many people off guard due to the lack of notice and community discussion, despite what the City of Albuquerque has said about the development process,” McCall told Courthouse News in a statement. “The reality is that the project and the citywide transit system would benefit greatly from a real community discussion and development of ideas in a collaborative, not authoritarian fashion.
     “This is the crux of the issue in this case: the failure to truly involve the community in a discussion while saying there is community support and involvement. The National Historic Preservation Act, public nuisance and takings issues in the case are issues that could have been addressed through the democratic process. The failure of that process has led to widespread community concern and the lawsuits that are now pending, as judicial redress appears to be the only relief available to the community.”
     Both lawsuits claim, in essence, that by making major changes to historic Route 66, Albuquerque may destroy the very attraction the bus corridor claims to support.
     Plaintiffs in both cases seek injunctions to stop the project until it complies with city, state and federal laws on development and the environment. The federal suit also demands historic site reviews and adequate environmental assessments.
     Lead attorney in the federal case is John Boyd with Freedman, Boyd, Hollander, Goldberg, Urias & Ward. Attorney McCall is with Law Works.
     The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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