City says ART project is 15 million over budget

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus project is almost done, but it’s not coming without a costly surprise to new Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s administration.

Initially estimated at a total cost of $119 million, Mayor Keller’s administrators now say ART is now over budget by about $15 million.

“There are some challenges to this (ART project) with respect to the status of the funding,” Keller said at a news conference Thursday.

The new administration says the project is now facing a total cost around $134 million, some of which is expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Government.

The cost change comes as Mayor Keller’s administration has been in control of Albuquerque city government for about two weeks. At Thursday’s news conference, Keller expressed his concern over the cost, and how the city will pay for it.

“The ART funding is planned and prepared and appropriated it is not locked in, and so we’re concerned about that, but we’re also moving fast to try and deal with that as best as we can,” Keller said.

So what was it that caused the city to spend extra money? Mayor Keller’s new Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael says the additional work happened above and below ground.

“Infrastructure improvements that were done, that we needed to get done but because ART was in the process of being constructed, the city took advantage of the opportunity,” Rael said.

According to Rael, those additional projects include, “water mains, fiber optics, sidewalk and lighting improvements.” Rael also said the city did additional work at the intersection of Lomas Boulevard and Central Avenue.

Rael says the additional costs, have been paid for “in essence.”

However, as construction wraps, the city still has another major matter to settle with the ART project: reimbursement from the federal government. The feds have promised to chip in $75 million dollars toward the project.

According to Rael, the city has yet to secure an official agreement on reimbursement from the Federal Transit Administration.

“The city of Albuquerque does not have a signed agreement with the Federal Transit Administration,” Rael said.

Also Rael says city staff will be meeting with the FTA’s regional administrator in Dallas in January to hopefully secure that agreement.

“That is what triggers inevitably the payback to the city for the federal government dollars to pay for the project,” said Rael.

Meanwhile, Mayor Keller’s office confirms that officers are considering possible ART route options that include running the bus down University Boulevard to the Albuquerque Sunport, allowing the city to dip into airport funding. The potential new line would also take people to Isotopes Park, The Pit and Lobo games. KRQE News 13 asked a few people what they thought of the idea.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” UNM student Seferina Ortiz said.

Some people say that the idea would boost their interest in actually riding the new bus rapid transit system.

“In expanding it, going down to the Pit and to those big areas, is what ART really needed to start in the first place,” said Leroy Martinez.

While ART is a big chunk of Albuquerque’s budget, Mayor Keller also mentioned Thursday that the city is facing a budget deficit it will have to deal with soon. Keller says the deficit is because gross receipts tax growth has been below the city’s projections.

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