ART Project Speeds Ahead on Old Route 66

A $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project will culminate with an 8.8-mi. electric-powered bus line with 20 stations on Central Avenue in New Mexico's largest city.

📅   Wed May 24, 2017 - West Edition #11
Chuck Harvey photo
The electric bus line will run along Central Avenue from Coors Boulevard east to Tramway Boulevard and encompass 10 city districts including Old Town and downtown. photo The electric bus line will run along Central Avenue from Coors Boulevard east to Tramway Boulevard and encompass 10 city districts including Old Town and downtown.

A $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project will culminate with an 8.8-mi. electric-powered bus line with 20 stations on Central Avenue, formerly a portion of Route 66 that runs through New Mexico's largest city.

The project is under way and the new rapid transit system is expected to open in fall of this year.

The city of Albuquerque and existing bus system ABQ RIDE, operator of Rapid Ride, are heading up the project, which also includes major upgrades to the streetscape and roadway including creation of bus-only lanes. Along with transit, ART will provide a walk-friendly corridor to connect neighborhoods, job centers, schools, entertainment venues and public spaces.

The ART system will feature 18 buses 60 ft. in length.

Most of the money for the project is from federal sources including $69 million from the Federal Transit Administration's Small Starts Capital Grant Program. Local matching funds covered the remainder of the cost.

One reason a bus rapid transit system was selected rather than light rail, is that light rail is notoriously expensive — to the tune of approximately $150 million to $250 million per mile. Comparatively, bus rapid transit is typically $10 million to $30 million per mile.

ART — Some Rail-Like Features

Albuquerque Rapid Transit or ART combines many features of rail transit with the flexibility of buses. ART officials determined that the system has the most cost-effective technology for Albuquerque's current population and future ridership estimates.

Some key elements of ART include a dedicated road, lane or mixed traffic route, frequent service, prioritized signaling at intersections, pre-boarding ticketing and a boarding platform level with the bus floor.

Bradbury Stamm of Albuquerque is general contractor for the ART project. The company specializes in design-build construction, construction management, multi-unit residential projects, general contracting, water and waste water construction and commercial building projects.

It serves New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. Previous projects by the builder include Rio Rancho Events Center (also known as Santa Ana Star Center) in Rio Rancho, N.M., and a two-bridge project at Paseo del Norte and 2nd Street in Albuquerque.

Bradbury Stamm's subcontractors for the ART project include Star Paving, TLC Plumbing & Utility and AUI Inc. for roadwork; Bixby Electrical and MWI Inc. for electrical work; Accent Landscaping and Groundskeeper Landscaping for landscaping; San Bar Construction for road striping; Southwest Safety Services for traffic control and Western Technologies for quality control and testing. All of the subcontractors are based in Albuquerque.

Project Divided Into 10 City Districts

The electric bus line will run along Central Avenue from Coors Boulevard east to Tramway Boulevard and encompass 10 city districts including Old Town and downtown.

This past winter, much of the construction was taking place in the west-central, Old Town, university, Nob Hill and international districts. Some single-lane closures were necessary in each of the districts.

In the Old Town area crews were installing a new water line on the east side of Rio Grande Boulevard from south of Merritt Avenue to Alhambra Avenue.

The current phase of construction includes reconstruction of the Rio Grande Boulevard-Central Avenue-Lomas Boulevard intersection and new sidewalk installation in East Downtown.

A bike lane will be added near Broadway Avenue and a bike lane will be extended near Montoya Street.

Also, six traffic signals and six pedestrian signals will be installed along the route.

In developing the system, the city wanted to improve on success of non-electric ABQ RIDE. About 42 percent of all ridership on ABQ RIDE is concentrated on Central Avenue.

The city also wanted to take advantage of the opportunities for development that occur when a transportation system goes into a main corridor. In many cities, business development surges along areas where many people are concentrated.

ART will replace two existing ABQ RIDE bus routes on Central Avenue with a timelier service that utilizes a mix of dedicated lanes, bi-directional lanes and reversible lanes to keep buses moving. It will run by each station every seven and a half minutes, without being stuck in regular traffic.

Residents, Businesses File Lawsuit

The lawsuit, filed in the 10th Circuit Court, delayed the start of the project, but in August 2016 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that had prevented construction.

A three-judge panel rejected legal arguments from project opponents who accused the city and Federal Transit Administration of violating environmental and national historic preservation laws in planning the project.

Opponents of ART insisted that creating bus-only lanes would choke traffic along Central Avenue, damage the charm of old Route 66 and hurt businesses along the route.

The litigation delayed the project about three months in 2016 from a planned late spring start to an Aug. 30 groundbreaking.

“I am pleased that the Appeals Court has allowed construction to begin on this catalytic project,” said Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry in an Aug. 30 release. “The design team and our community have worked diligently for years to ensure ART is a world-class project that will bring opportunity for Central Avenue and the people of Albuquerque.”

Berry said the project will make Albuquerque a more connected and vibrant place to live. And he believes the electric-powered buses will save money and reduce pollution.

Traffic Impact Analysis

A traffic-impact analysis was performed as part of the environment evaluation. The impact to each signalized intersection on Central Avenue between Unser Boulevard and Louisiana Boulevard was assessed using actual traffic counts from morning and afternoon rush hours.

The results of the analysis found that all of the intersections would continue to operate in accordance with city of Albuquerque standards. In addition to the intersection-level analysis prepared for the project, the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) analyzed potential impacts to parallel routes and found that while some through-traffic shifts to parallel routes, those routes have available capacity to handle the additional traffic and meet the city's standards.

Nationally, studies also have found that focusing development in major transit corridors like Central Avenue puts a significant dent in future congestion because it enables more people to use transit or other modes of transportation, including walking.

Zero Emissions Buses

Each ART bus will have seating for 40 to 50 people, depending on the number of wheelchair positions and bike-holding positions. The buses are constructed by BYD Motors Inc. of Los Angeles. The company's motor factory is in Lancaster, Calif. BYD Motors is maker of Zero-Emissions Battery Buses.

ART planners determined that the Central Avenue corridor has the ridership, population density, land uses and activity centers to support a successful bus rapid transit line. They point to successful similar corridors with successful bus lines in Ft. Collins, Colo., and in Cleveland.

The current Central Avenue bus line is hampered by traffic and delays at busy intersections as well as slow boarding times.

The ART bus system will bring numerous changes to Central Avenue including canopy-covered bus stations with ticket machines and seating, a new roadway surface from curb to curb, wider sidewalks in some areas, improved sidewalk lighting, station lighting, security cameras, emergency call boxes, public art, new trees and landscaping, narrower streets and slower car traffic.

The narrower streets help to provide space for outdoor café seating.

ART Could Help Real Estate, Jobs Market

Albuquerque Rapid Transit is expected to provide a boost to the local economy. A NAIOP (National Association for Industrial and Office Parks) study determined that development along the ART route could increase demand for housing in the area. New jobs would also be created, according to the findings.

The study shows potential for $900 million in new development and 5,000 new jobs as the result of ART.

The project is expected to encourage transit-oriented development. A transit-oriented development is a mixed-use area located within close proximity to a transit stop or line, normally with a core commercial area that is pedestrian-friendly.

Transit oriented development often focuses on a half-mile area, which is generally considered to be walking distance around a transit station.

Businesses to Remain Open During Construction

Meanwhile, businesses along Central Avenue face the inconvenience of a major construction project. ART officials report that one lane will be open in each direction at all times in front of businesses.

ART also will be working with business owners to ensure consumers know that the businesses are open.—CEG