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Vanessa Gueringer, vice president of A Community Voice, photographed Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, at the St. Claude Avenue Bridge over the Industrial Canal.

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD

Plans to ease the flow of both marine and vehicular traffic in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes have irked some residents, who say the proposals will force out homeowners and drive down property values.

At issue is a plan to improve connections between the two parishes, in part by building a new bridge that would run next to the existing Florida Avenue bridge in the 9th Ward. Separately, a long-controversial plan to expand the Industrial Canal’s navigation lock and replace the St. Claude Avenue bridge over it is again causing uproar.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Transportation and Development are the agencies behind the two plans, which are dependent on congressional and court approval or financing.

Even with approval and financing, construction on the Florida Avenue bridge project wouldn’t begin for another four years.

Still, Vanessa Gueringer of A Community Voice, a group of at least two dozen residents who oppose the projects, said a lock expansion has been proposed and decried for years, while the Florida Avenue changes would force hundreds of people out of their homes.

“It’s just demoralizing, dehumanizing, despicable, every word that you could think of,” Gueringer said at a recent protest against the plans.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, came out swinging against the lock expansion plans last week. Another group, the Coalition Against Widening the Industrial Canal, also has long been opposed to that plan.

Widening the lock, which connects the Mississippi River to the Industrial Canal and other waterways, would help large vessels enter and exit the lock more quickly, boosting commerce and creating jobs, the Corps has said. It has proposed building a $951.3 million lock that would be 900 feet long, 110 feet wide and 22 feet deep, and building a new bridge to run above it.

The current lock, which was built in 1923, is only 640 feet long by 75 feet wide. Expanding it would not require the relocation of any homes, and that course of action is supported by shipping companies.

But nearby residents have for decades claimed the project will cause environmental hazards and leave homes more vulnerable to flooding, which will depress property values. 

The Florida Avenue project, meanwhile, envisions a new bridge; a north-south connection from Florida Avenue to the Port of St. Bernard; a reliable west-east roadway from Elysian Fields to Paris Road; and improvements to Florida Avenue and Tupelo Street in the Lower 9th Ward.

The chief point of contention about that project is the relocations that would be required to realize it. Gueringer and other critics say a 2013 study DOTD commissioned on the project showed that of various roadway options being considered, two would involve the potential relocation of 118 homes.

DOTD spokeswoman Bambi Hall said it’s not yet clear how many homes would be affected because DOTD hasn’t finalized its plans. “We cannot give a definitive indication of residential impacts at this time,” she said.

The Corps scheduled two public meetings this month on the lock project, and another public meeting on the Florida Avenue project is expected this summer after DOTD has examined each roadway option. 

Gueringer hopes the state and federal agencies will agree to construct new bridges but abandon plans for everything else. 

“You take the $951 million you’ve got and spend $8 million on this bridge,” she said, indicating the St. Claude Avenue bridge. "This fight is not going away," she said. 

The next public meeting on the lock project is planned for 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at the St. Bernard Parish Government Complex, 8201 W. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.