ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Work making way for the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus line started this week on Central Avenue despite pending lawsuits seeking to halt the $119 million project.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, or ABCWUA, is taking out some medians and trees in two sections of the road in order to move water lines. Currently construction is underway near San Mateo and Central and between Atrisco and Coors on Central.
“These water lines will need to be relocated so that they won’t be underneath the ART stations and the ART bus line,” said David Morris, a spokesperson with the ABCWUA. “If the city’s doing a project like this we’re obligated under our franchise agreement to get our utilities out of the way.”
In total, similar work is required in five separate sections of Central according to Morris.
The construction caught ART opponents off guard.
“It felt like an ambush,” said John McCall, a lawyer representing opponents of the project in a lawsuit against the city. “Every indication from the city… they stated clearly that they were delaying construction from May until July.”
A spokesperson for the project says this is work to prepare for the project, not work on the project itself which is still slated to start in July. In fact, the cost of the ABCWUA work to prepare for ART is separate from the $119 million cost of the ART project.
Morris didn’t have an estimate on the cost of the work on all five segments of Central, but said it’s likely in the “millions”. The work between Atrisco and Coors alone is estimated to cost $950,000.
McCall says the removal of medians and trees, whether done by the city or ABCWUA, is causing “irreparable harm and damage” to Central, and says they are taking swift legal action to try and put the brakes on the work.
“We’re requesting an emergency hearing,” McCall said.
The ABCWUA is defending the decision to move ahead with the work.
“We sort of have to act on the assumption that it’s moving forward,” Morris said. “Because if we don’t and it does move forward, we will have put the whole thing months behind schedule.”
The money being spent on the project by the ABCWUA has other consequences.
“We do anticipate franchise type projects every year,” Morris said. “This is a little bit bigger than we would usually anticipate, and yes, some of that money would’ve gone to high priority items.”