The people who operate businesses near Louis Armstrong International Airport are starting to worry about whether the area’s roads can handle the workout they’ll be getting when construction crews start building a new airport terminal.
Business representatives packed a hotel conference room near the airport Monday morning to hear details about the nearly billion-dollar undertaking, which is scheduled to kick off in earnest next month and be completed in 2018. And they had plenty of questions for officials.
“Do we get ... just years of inconvenience?” asked Vincent Scelfo of Gambino’s Bakery, which is headquartered in Kenner. He also wondered why officials haven’t required the lead contractor, a joint venture called Hunt-Gibbs-Boh-Metro, to refurbish any of the nearby streets as a part of the project.
Whether those types of concerns are justified or not, local infrastructure certainly will see heavy use during construction.
Officials said that beginning next month, 55 trucks full of foundation sand and other materials will pass down Bainbridge Street heading to the work site every hour from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. During daylight hours, the frequency should be about six trucks hourly. And that will keep up every day for about 42 weeks before scaling back.
In addition, between 600 and 700 workers will be shuttling to and from the work site daily until the 30-gate terminal opens in the latter part of 2018.
Those numbers prompted one audience member at Monday’s meeting to question whether Bainbridge — which has cracks on its surface and is divided by a drainage canal — can support a nightly volume of 600-plus trucks.
“Is it going to be falling apart?” asked commercial real estate broker Skip Weber, who has clients who own property in the area.
In response, Kenner and project leaders insisted they have taken steps to mitigate the wear and tear.
Kenner Chief Administrative Officer Mike Quigley said the city has reduced Bainbridge’s speed limit, and trucks will be required to use the street’s outside lanes to minimize stress on the banks of the canal that runs down the street’s center. The city also intends to monitor the street’s condition with equipment that measures road and pavement grading, Quigley said.
Terminal project executive Charlie Prewitt said the joint venture group would require its workers to arrive and leave for work via Crestview Street. Daily start and end times will be staggered so that not everyone shows up or departs at once, he said.
Prewitt said crews would use nearby Aberdeen Street if either Crestview or Bainbridge becomes temporarily unavailable during the project.
Kenner Police Chief Michael Glaser said off-duty officers, to be paid for out of the project’s budget, would man traffic lights at the beginning and end of each workday to keep traffic flowing smoothly.
Acting Kenner Mayor Michael Sigur said the terminal project will generate millions of dollars for the city in extra sales tax revenue and permitting fees, among other things, and municipal officials are committed to reinvesting many of those dollars in whatever pieces of infrastructure the project may wear down.
“It’s going to be a blessing when it’s finished, but ... there’s going to be some inconvenience over the next couple of years,” Sigur said.
Officials have scheduled a 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday at Susan Park Gym, 502 Veterans Memorial Blvd., to discuss the terminal project with Kenner residents. They said they would publicize a hotline number where neighbors can report any problems.
Adjacent to the new terminal, crews are building a 2,000-car parking garage, central utility plant and ground transportation staging area.
Plans also call for an on-site hotel and a flyover connection from Interstate 10 that may not be completed until the next decade.
Correction: This story previously said Gambino’s Bakery was in Metairie. While a bakery location is in Metairie, it is headquartered in Kenner, and this story has been updated to reflect that.