New Orleans officials are hoping to spend at least $350 million a year for the next two decades or more to completely rebuild all the city’s devastated streets.
A group of engineers, financial experts and residents has the task of finding the money.
The Fix My Streets Financing Working Group — named for a Lakeview-based campaign calling for better roads — kicked off its first meeting Wednesday with an overview of the daunting task ahead.
Officials now estimate the total price tag for the project at $9.9 billion, a figure that has crept up over the course of the year and even in the past week. While a large chunk of cash is expected to come from last week’s $1.2 billion settlement with FEMA — which caps off a $3 billion pot now available to replace streets and the pipes that run beneath them — funding for the rest remains uncertain.
“We’re going to do as much as we can with the funding available, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” said Lt. Col. Mark Jernigan, who heads the city’s Department of Public Works.
The plan is to completely reconstruct more than 1,500 miles of city-owned streets, most of which suffered severe damage due to flooding after Hurricane Katrina.
The working group, created by Mayor Mitch Landrieu two weeks ago, is expected to come up with financing suggestions by early next year as the city completes an analysis of the condition of every street in the city.
While officials have said they are looking for creative ideas — new types of financing, tapping into a newly created state infrastructure bank or a public-private partnership — it’s likely that at least part of the solution will involve taxes dedicated to streetwork.
That could involve creating taxing districts for street repairs in dedicated areas, a process that will have to be designed so that all areas of the city have enough resources for the job, said Ryan Berni, a senior aide to Landrieu.
“We have to figure out a way when we’re grouping people to put the haves with the have-nots,” Berni said.
The group is also expected to focus on other concerns. A main one will be offering suggestions on how to prioritize the work equitably and keep residents informed of traffic-snarling projects.
The FEMA money itself could raise its own issues. Working group member Freddy Yoder Jr., the retired president of Durr Heavy Construction, noted federal rules could prevent local firms and workers from being given precedence in projects using the federal money, and he urged city officials to look into ways to keep those preferences in place.
“I want the work to stay here, and I want the people in New Orleans to get their fair share of the work,” Yoder said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.