All Aboard Mayor Marty’s Crazy Train?

Last night, I attended one of the City of Albuquerque’s meetings on Mayor Chavez’s so-called “Modern Streetcar Project.” It wasn’t so much a meeting involving give-and-take between community leaders and residents as it was a sales pitch from the City’s Transit Department and the HDR Company which will manage the project.
There was a 30-minute powerpoint presentation and a Q & A session, which did feature lively debate, but the only elected official who actually showed up, Councilman Heinrich, left immediately after making a short introduction. Most of the attendees appeared skeptical of the $224 million project and justifiably so. Although this meeting was designed to convey the sense that this project is a “done-deal,” information on expected ridership numbers, operating costs and subsidies, fares, and operating hours was in short supply.
A few things struck me as particularly troubling:
First and foremost, Heinrich and others constantly compared the $224 million streetcar to the Big I interchange reconstruction which cost $230 million to complete. There is no doubt that the Big I carries exponentially more people and goods than the streetcar will ever carry.
Secondly, while the Mayor’s trolley will be paid for by all taxpayers whether they ride or not, the Big I was largely paid for by motorists and truckers themselves through gas taxes and other fees. There simply is no comparison between the two projects as far as importance to the community is concerned.
Lastly, the people pushing this project say Portland is supposed to be our model. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Albuquerque is only 60 percent as dense as Portland and Albuquerque’s metropolitan area has only 40 percent as many people (797,000 as compared to 2 million).
I’m really only scratching the surface of the arguments against this and other rail projects, but as was made clear last night, we won’t have a chance to vote on this. Pressuring City Council to oppose this boondoggle is the only way to stop it.

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