After six months, at least one member of a task force created to develop a long-term financing plan for fixing New Orleans’ cratered streets is getting fed up with the slow pace of the group’s work.
Freddy Yoder, the retired president and chief operating officer of Durr Heavy Construction, told the other members of the city’s Fix My Streets Financing Working Group on Wednesday that the process has become bogged down.
He pointed to missed deadlines and a lack of reports and feedback from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration as problems with the effort.
“I’m not here to waste my time,” said Yoder, a longtime leader of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association.
The task force was created by Landrieu late last year to come up with ways to pay for the full reconstruction of all of the city’s minor streets and utility lines from the ground up — a goal that would cost $10 billion but could prove a long-term solution to the city’s ongoing problems with road maintenance.
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The original plan called for the committee to issue recommendations early this year so the Legislature could act on them, but lawmakers have now gone home until next year.
Chairwoman Norma Jean Mattei, the president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the lack of recent meetings was largely caused by the fact she had been traveling a lot.
But Yoder raised other issues as well. A 10-page report he and other task force members submitted to the Landrieu administration in March has received no response and wasn’t discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, he noted.
“When we come up with ideas, when we come up with things that seem to make a little bit of sense, nothing happens with them,” Yoder said of the report, which has not been released by the administration.
Another key element of the group’s work — a comprehensive study detailing the condition of every street in the city — also has been delayed. That report, initially expected to be released in the spring, is aimed at guiding decisions on which streets to repair.
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Wednesday’s meeting did not yield any clear solutions either.
Officials from the state Department of Transportation and Development laid out several options the city might pursue, but it’s unlikely any of them would be a perfect fit for New Orleans.
For example, cities are allowed to put tolls on roads without legislative approval, but there are no obvious candidates for a toll road owned by New Orleans. A state infrastructure bank created in 2015 could provide some money, but even in a best-case scenario it’s expected to have only about $2.1 million a year to distribute statewide.
Another option, which generated some interest among members of the task force, essentially would allow the city to generate some quick cash by agreeing to take over the maintenance of state roadways in New Orleans.
Several state highways, including St. Claude Avenue and portions of U.S. 90 on Gentilly Boulevard and North Broad Street, could be transferred to the city under the program.
When a city agrees to such a transfer, the state initially fixes up the roadway and then turns over the amount it would have spent on maintenance over the next 40 years, amounting to about $442,000 for a mile of two-lane road. But that program is also limited to about $25 million a year statewide.
Another option that was briefly discussed was tax increment financing districts, which pay for roadwork or other improvements out of increases in property or sales tax revenue that come after the improvements are complete, though those are typically used only in areas being redeveloped.
The city could also implement what’s known as a “road improvement assessment,” which charges property owners a fee based on the amount of their property that fronts the road being paved over a 10-year period. But some task force members raised issues with that idea, saying it would mean that property owners on some roadways would be funding their own improvements after having paid taxes that helped improve streets elsewhere.
“We’ve got neighborhoods surrounding us that have had all their streets redone, and we’ve been paying for them,” said Eric Songy, president of the Bocage Neighborhood Association in Algiers.