Our city is moving in the right direction — the economy is growing, retail is coming back strong, schools are improving and murders are at a historic, nearly 30-year low. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
Major long-term funding challenges remain: consent decrees, the firefighters pension fund and a need for additional police officers is just a start. Fixing and maintaining our infrastructure, from streets to streetlights to drainage, is and always will be one of our top priorities.
As a lifelong New Orleanian who has walked, biked and driven the awful streets of our city for years, I know it has been this way for a long time. Even before Katrina, over one-third of our streets were rated in fair or worse condition.
So we got to work right away, especially on main thoroughfares. We immediately started to turn dirt on street projects that had been stalled for years. We have fixed more streets from 2010 to 2014 than in the previous 10 years combined.
We also went back to FEMA. A lot of recovery money had been left on the table following Hurricane Katrina, especially for street repairs. So since 2010, through hard work and in collaboration with our federal partners, we have secured an additional $687 million in new FEMA funding. But we all know this is simply not enough.
Here is the truth — to fix all the bad streets, we would need about $350 million more per year for 20 years, and that doesn’t even count the big repairs needed for the sewer, water and drainage beneath the streets. In total, these urgent infrastructure needs would cost $9 billion.
That’s a big pill to swallow. Indeed, the city’s entire general fund budget for everything from police and fire to NORD, streets and streetlights is currently only about $500 million per year.
In the coming years, we will continue to sell city assets, further streamline City Hall and exhaust every option with FEMA and beyond to keep repairing streets at a record pace. But it is impossible to avoid the basic fact that if we want to fix all the streets, we as a city will have to pay more for it. I also know that our cost of living must remain reasonable so that people in every neighborhood of the city can afford to live, work and raise a family.
So, just like a family sitting around the kitchen table figuring out how to make ends meet, our community must come together to decide what we want and how to pay for it. These are tough challenges, but we must take them head on to keep our city moving in the right direction.
Mitchell J. Landrieu
mayor, city of New Orleans