They might not look like much, but the dirt, mud and construction equipment along the Lafitte Greenway route represent a major milestone in construction of the 2.6-mile linear park that will cut through the city, from the edge of the French Quarter at Armstrong Park to Mid-City.
After years of planning and delays, the project is more than half complete.
Lt. Col. Mark Jernigan, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, said the $9.1 million project is on schedule to wrap in the spring.
The project, which is designed to transform an abandoned railroad corridor into usable green space, was first proposed under the Nagin administration, but work did not begin until March.
The park will extend from St. Louis and Basin streets, a block from the French Quarter, to St. Louis and North Alexander streets in Mid-City.
Most of a 12-foot-wide walking and bicycle path is done, and preparation is underway for laying grass, creating some athletic fields and planting more than 500 trees, which will be more visible signs of progress, Jernigan said.
That work should begin this month.
One aspect of the project that is beyond anyone’s control is the weather, but Jernigan said it has cooperated and has helped to keep everything on schedule.
He and the contractors are hopeful that will continue.
“Rain’s going to impact how the planting goes and how the grading goes,” he said. “Right now, we’re trying to keep it (the completion date) in that springtime window. A lot just depends on the weather right now.”
While the greenery will take some months to plant, the park’s lighting should be done by the end of the year, and work soon will begin on the Carondelet Walk, a crushed-stone path that will run along Lafitte Avenue, between North Claiborne Avenue and North Galvez Street.
A master plan for the greenway envisions other amenities, such as a farmers market, a dog park and an amphitheater, but the scope of the project right now is essentially limited to the path and planting, Jernigan said.
The project is being funded by federal Disaster Community Development Block Grant money and Louisiana Recreational Trails grants, and those programs’ rules limit what can be done for now.
One aspect of the park that remains undetermined is its management.
Just as the city spent many months finding an entity to be in charge of security and maintenance at the new Crescent Park along the riverfront in Marigny and Bywater — it eventually was put under the French Market Corp. — there has been no decision on managing the greenway, Jernigan said.
He declined to say what options might be under consideration.
The Landrieu administration, however, has proposed giving the Department of Parks and Parkways money to maintain the greenway in its 2015 budget.
While it would be ideal to have some more aspects of the master plan implemented immediately, just getting the old railroad lines out and a park in represents great progress, said Sophie Harris, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Lafitte Corridor.
“With the initial build-out, we are getting a really, really excellent park,” she said. “We’re incredibly thrilled with the project’s progress.”
For its part, the friends group has secured funding for recycling containers along the greenway and will work to try to add security cameras in the near future, Harris said.
Citizens have been vocal about wanting community gardens and a space for volleyball, and her group intends to try make those happen, but the reality is that they will only happen at a later date and with private dollars, Harris said.
While for many decades railcars rumbled along the new greenway’s path, the route originally was part of the Carondelet Canal.
That waterway, dug in the 1700s, was used to ship goods to the French Quarter. A turning basin where the canal ended gave Basin Street its name.
Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.