A controversial plan to replace the aging Canal Street ferry terminal again faced criticism Wednesday, with several dozen opponents demonstrating a day before the City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal.
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority wants to tear down the existing building and construct a new terminal, but many residents object to the design, saying it should include a covered walkway that would let riders get to and from the ferry without being exposed to the weather. They also want a pedestrian bridge over the riverfront railroad tracks to prevent delays when slow-moving trains are passing.
It appeared Wednesday that the latter demand has been prioritized over the former.
“All we ask for is a bridge,” former City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said as she stood in front of the terminal entrance. “We appreciate that this may not be the prettiest building in the city. And that’s fine. But all we would like is a bridge over the railroad track.”
The City Council has the final say on the demolition and is set to consider it Thursday.
The new terminal would accommodate two new catamaran-style boats that would serve more than 140 passengers each, and is meant to serve as a center for development near Canal Street.
Officials want to rework the Riverfront and Canal streetcar lines to connect through the site. They also want to tie in the project with the proposed World Trade Center redevelopment and work being done by the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center a few blocks away.
Under the redesign, the terminal would no longer present a barrier between Woldenberg Riverfront Park and the Aquarium of the Americas on one side of Canal Street, and Spanish Plaza and the Riverwalk mall on the other.
The RTA's goal is to complete the $32 million project by the city's tricentennial in 2018. Roughly $15 million of the project will be funded with federal grants, while the rest of the money would need to come from other sources.
At issue for dozens of residents, however, is the sleek new terminal's lack of a covered walkway and bridge over the tracks.
No bridge could mean missed connections, as a half-dozen or so New Orleans Public Belt Railroad trains run past the site each day and would create delays for many ferry riders. Leaving riders to run through the rain also poses a safety hazard, the critics say.
Although transit planners have acknowledged those issues, they have pointed to a lack of money to build exactly what residents want. They said they have explored alternatives, such as partnering with a nearby building and asking it to open up a bridge, but none has proved feasible.
Other criticisms raised by some residents include officials' last-minute call for public input on the plans and a lack of consideration of how the project would work in tandem with the city's other transit needs.
The RTA unveiled and began gathering input on its proposed design in January, despite receiving its first federal grant for the project in 2015.
“How much of this really could have been avoided with a better planning process?” asked Alex Posorske, the executive director of RIDE New Orleans, a transit advocacy group.