Monday, December 04, 2006

Marty Chavez: Look Upon My Almost-Works Ye Mighty and Despair

From the man who almost built a downtown arena, bravely attacked the growing menace of "all-ages" music shows, and politically oversaw construction of that most mighty, awe-inspiring "Rio Line Train" running hundreds and hundreds of yards between Zoo and BioPark, Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez has unveiled his most grandiloquent public works project to date: almost getting a few miles of streetcar line built along Central Avenue.

The Little, Really, Really Little Train That Could:
Mass Transit on a Marty Scale at the Burque BioPark

Not since his work in taking undeserved personal credit for building Isotopes Park has Chavez exhibited the vision and political acuity seen in his work regarding the streetcar project. After striking out in attempts to get Legislative pork to fund the project, Chavez took the highly popular step of tacking the cost on as continuation of an existing transportation tax.

Inexplicably, a series of public forums around the city showed less than sparkling regard for the Chavez project and tax ideas. Presented with the sort of hard choices that spell the difference between great mayors and mayors who have a Hell of a time getting anything meaningful accomplished, Chavez bailed on the Streetcar project, consigning it to the bureaucratic purgatory of a "task force" to comprehensively study transportation issues in Burque. Kind of an Iraq Study Group for traffic and mass transit, no doubt empowered just as the Iraq Study Group has been shown to be.

Mayor Marty Chavez (in loud, deep announcer voice): He tamed the mighty two-lane Montano, he tore down the Berlin Wall that was the Blue Spruce, he almost did some other things...kinda.


Chapter Two, or as they say on the message boards... (/snark)

I am in favor of a Streetcar Project, but only if that project is part of a bigger, fantastically more thorough (i.e. expensive) mass transit model for Albuquerque. The Streetcar as smallmindedly envisioned by Chavez was to be a glorified "Rio Line Train", designed as much for tourist impression as transportation functionality. Having had some experience with the Portland, Oregon streetcar/light rail system, a streetcar is not a bad idea IF a city has the wherewithal to follow intra-downtown streetcars with truly significant adjoining rail alongside major roads into that downtown. It will take far more political acuity than has been shown by Mayor Chavez to make that fly (ur....glide) here.

The Streetcar That Wasn't episode does bring up a few other points:

  • Now is the time to talk dramatic expansion of the bus system in Burque. For example...our little 53 route in the South Valley still only runs every 40 minutes. As it turns out, that means I miss by one minute the 11 connector going from Alvarado to my workplace. I know I'm not alone with these frustrations. We need more buses and bus routes on ABQ Ride.
  • We need to expand bus service to later times throughout the system.
  • I did a bit of checking and it looks to me that the ABQ Ride budget for 2006 was something like $33 million (sorry, it's a PDF). I know it's not Streetcar-sexy, but for much less than Streetcar-sexy costs we can get more buses and bus routes on ABQ Ride.
  • Of course, we will need more carbon emission reducing buses like the RapidRide. What's the point of buses if ridership is small due to ride times and the bus carbon emissions are 15 times that of an individual car?

Of course these points are a small calving iceberg on the melting ice shelf that is Burque transportation. I agree that much "task force" style work needs to go into making a long-range transportation plan. The thing is, I see record of such planning already having been done by entities like the Rapid Transit Project. It certainly sounds like Mayor Chavez and Councilor Martin Heinrich are throwing around the "task force" study as little more than a political life preserver to the Streetcar, when they could have politically defended the Project using studies already done on the Streetcar itself (including the little expensive "artist rendering" drawings we mass transit junkies have seen on the ABQ Ride webpage for years now).

Large-scale public works/infrastructure projects are not for the politically squeamish. Looking around the country, one sees hugely expensive ideas bravely (and perhaps in some cases also stupidly) undertaken. I'm thinking of the "Big Dig" in Boston here, or the $3-4 billion rebuild of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle that I've been following as a former Emerald City resident. We could and should debate whether these projects are good ideas, but I bring them up to illustrate how far Burque mentally is from both stomaching such costs/projects and having the political leadership to help the citizenry mentally stomach them. We are so, so far away...instead let's go blow a few hundred thousand bucks on some more "task force studies". I'm really looking forward to the pretty "artist renderings" this time.

P.S.: We're still waiting for our Rail Runner stop here in the South Valley. A spurt of Journal/Trib stories last week indicated a newly estimated April opening for the stop. I know..I know, April of what year?'s supposedly April, 2007. It said so in the paper. I'll just stop right there, the joke possibilities are so immense I'll just leave them to you, Burque Babble reader to rattle off at your leisure.

P.P.S.: Mayor Marty's last blog entry is from June 22, 2006. I think we have to list this as another ALMOST ACCOMPLISHMENT of the Chavez Administration at this point. Of course, operating a blog is the quintessential major public works project. It's hard work...I should know. Tough, tough work. Not for the squeamish, political or otherwise. You don't have to tell me how hard it is. (/snark).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

did ya hear about pete dominici's foray around the capitol building in his jammies?