Irate and skeptical residents and business owners along North Rampart Street raised concerns Wednesday night about the imminent construction of a streetcar line along the corridor.
With concerns ranging from the vibrations the construction will cause to the impact it will have on businesses, residents used a public meeting on the project to fire a series of questions at officials with the Regional Transit Authority and Transdev, the company that manages the agency’s operations.
Many of the dozens who attended the meeting said they are skeptical of the project, particularly in light of delays during construction of the recently built Loyola Avenue streetcar line.
“I’m very leery that it will take 18 months based on your experience on Loyola,” said Leo Watermeier, who lives and owns buildings on the route.
When complete, the line will run along North Rampart and St. Claude Avenue between Canal Street and Elysian Fields Avenue.
Besides streetcar tracks in the left-hand traffic lanes in both directions, the project will include a new bike lane on the upriver-bound side of the corridor.
New shelters will be installed along the route, and the historic streetlights will be refurbished.
Construction will begin next week.
Crews will begin setting up traffic control Monday morning between Orleans Avenue and St. Philip Street. That will shut down the intersections at St. Ann and Dumaine.
That area will be used as a storage area for rails to be used in the rest of the project and was selected because the side streets there dead-end at Armstrong Park.
After construction is complete on that section, which is expected to take between 45 and 60 days, the work will move to Elysian Fields. Three blocks will be under construction at any given time, moving upriver until the project reaches Canal Street, officials said.
Information on the project, including the progress of construction, will be available on the RTA’s website, www.norta.org.
Martin Pospisil, an official with Transdev, said contractors are working to ensure there is minimal disruption to nearby residents.
The work is expected to produce about as much vibration as an 18-wheeler traveling down the street, he said, and officials are working with the city’s Department of Public Works on restrictions on heavy traffic on the street during construction.
Several residents, however, said they fear the impact those vibrations will have on historic structures along the route.
Others raised more specific concerns. A representative of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation said she worries the street in front of the organization’s newly renovated building will be closed during the months surrounding Jazz Fest.
Bob Simms, a French Quarter resident, asked whether the project would improve lighting in the area. Officials said that is up to the Public Works Department.
Officials had planned to make a presentation before taking questions, but they opened the floor after criticism from many of the dozens of residents at the meeting who said the delay would shut down public discussion.
Some residents also denied officials’ claims that they have contacted everyone who lives or works on North Rampart; several people said they had never heard from anyone involved in the project.
Company officials said they will reach out to make sure they contact everyone in the area.
And with massive work blocking lanes of traffic, some worried about the impact the project will have on their businesses and their ability to travel along and across Rampart by foot or by car.
Al Sunseri, president of P&J Oyster Co. at the corner of Toulouse Street, said he worries the project could have as much of an impact on his business as the BP oil spill.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said.
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 of new streetcar lines. In all, that expansion would cost more than $900 million, with new lines running along St. Claude to Poland Avenue and along Elysian Fields toward both the lakefront and the riverfront, among others.
So far, only the Rampart expansion has funding. The main phase of construction will be paid for with $41.5 million from a 2010 bond sale.
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.