Workers from Entergy and Cox Communications have been busy clearing the way of power lines and cables. Now the main phase of construction on a new spur of the city’s famous streetcar system is about to get underway.
After years of planning and debate, contractors for the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority will begin work this month on a new line from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue running along Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue.
Justin Augustine, the agency’s general manager, said the project will take about two years to complete once the work gets started. As with the Loyola Avenue spur, which opened in January 2013, city officials hope the investment will pay off by generating economic development in a part of the city where revitalization efforts have proceeded in fits and starts.
“When we first introduced the concept, we wanted to revitalize and renew parts of the city, and we knew that along that corridor, you’d be touching five historic neighborhoods,” Augustine said, referring to the French Quarter, Iberville, the Treme, the Marigny and the Upper 9th Ward. “We’re hoping with all of our projects that we spur economic development.”
The new Rampart line is one part of a $3.5 billion, long-term spending program at the RTA, which includes more than 33 miles worth of new streetcar lines. In all, that expansion would cost more than $900 million, with new lines running along St. Claude to Poland Avenue, along Elysian Fields toward both the lakefront and the riverfront, and connecting Carrollton and Claiborne avenues, among others.
So far, only the Rampart expansion has funding, however. The main phase of construction will be paid for with $41.5 million from a 2010 bond sale.
In the meantime, Augustine said, financial advisers hired by the RTA will get to work this month on ideas for financing future projects, whether it means more bonds, federal grants or other sources.
The tracks on Rampart and St. Claude will run outside of the neutral ground in lanes that streetcars will share with vehicle traffic. There will be half a dozen stops sporting specially designed shelters, more in keeping with the historic neighborhoods nearby than the sleek, futuristic looking structures on Loyola.
Plans also call for installing a new bike lane heading in the direction of Canal. And there will still be lanes set aside for parking on both sides of the street.
The plan’s specifics drew debate when the RTA unveiled them at a series of public meetings in 2013. The transit advocacy group Ride New Orleans, which has been sharply critical of the RTA’s management under Transdev, the private company that handles the agency’s day-to-day operations, argued for installing dedicated streetcar lanes instead of shared lanes.
That would have constricted vehicle traffic but freed up more space for another bike lane on the other side of the street, because dedicated lanes can be narrower than ones that also have to accommodate cars and trucks.
Another concern is the disruption caused by months of construction, which drew complaints about traffic congestion and noise after crews started tearing up Loyola Avenue in 2012.
Augustine said the RTA will hold a public meeting on Jan. 7 where the agency’s contractors will discuss how the work is scheduled to proceed and take questions. It’s scheduled for 6 p.m. at Joseph A. Craig Charter School in the Treme.
Follow Andrew Vanacore on Twitter @avanacore.
This story was altered on Jan. 2 to reflect that the RTA will hold a public meeting on the new streetcar project Jan. 7.