The North Rampart Street streetcars won’t be rolling until at least the middle of next year, but residents along the corridor are already complaining about a different kind of rumbling.
The work to install the tracks, which started in the blocks fronting Armstrong Park earlier this year, has been causing vibrations in the area that nearby residents say could damage their buildings.
That’s of particular concern along the edge of the French Quarter, whose historic buildings may be more susceptible to harm from the vibrations than newer construction, said Leo Watermeier, who owns three properties in the 800 block of North Rampart, right where the construction began.
“They’re using standard (construction) practices in an area where specialized practices need to be followed,” Watermeier said.
Residents believe the issue is largely related to the scale of the equipment being used.
The Regional Transit Authority’s contractor, Archer Western, is using a large backhoe to break up and dig in the lanes near the neutral ground. Watermeier said a smaller piece of equipment, though it might take more time to do the job, would cause less disruption.
The streetcars will run in the lefthand traffic lanes along North Rampart and St. Claude Avenue, from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue.
The 18-month project is scheduled to cost about $41.5 million, which will be paid for with the proceeds from a 2010 bond issue.
Vibrations were one of several issues raised by residents at a meeting just before construction started.
In an emailed statement, RTA officials said they have been working to ensure properties are protected as work proceeds.
“Prior to the start of construction, external surveys were conducted by the contractor on all structures in the North Rampart Street/St. Claude Avenue corridor,” according to the statement. “Internal surveys were offered to all property owners on the corridor and were conducted on properties as authorized by property owners.”
RTA officials have met with residents on a couple of occasions since the complaints began, and Watermeier said there have been some improvements. A large jackhammer that was being used initially has been replaced with a smaller one, for example. But he said much of the work is still causing vibrations through digging and, in some cases, dropping pieces of asphalt after they’ve been pulled from the roadway.
The headquarters of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates at 816 N. Rampart has been experiencing “profound vibrations” during the construction, and on at least one occasion vibrations were so bad that equipment was visibly shaking in the office, Meg Lousteau, executive director of the organization, told the Vieux Carre Commission last week.
“We are in the block where everything began, so everything that’s happened in our block will happen to all the other blocks in the Quarter, Marigny and Treme as the work moves down the line,” Lousteau said.
Work on the project has largely moved to the intersection of Elysian Fields and St. Claude, though the area near Armstrong Park remains a staging ground for equipment that will be used throughout the construction process.
The RTA said it has been monitoring the vibrations in compliance with federal recommendations.
“The project complies with Federal Transit Administration-recommended vibration level limits,” according to the agency’s statement. “Vibration monitoring occurs throughout the day to ensure compliance within the recommended limits.”
The statement also urges residents with questions or concerns to call a project hotline at (504) 577-2668.
But Lousteau said reports from vibration monitors on the site show multiple occasions when the vibrations were far above the levels the construction is supposed to observe. She said that when she asked the RTA about those spikes, she was told that only sustained vibrations could cause problems.
So far, there’s been little sign of serious damage to any of the properties on the street, Watermeier said. But given the age of the buildings, there’s always a concern that small issues caused by the construction could lead to larger issues later, he said.
“I don’t know of anything major, but all of us feel that it might be five years down the line when residual damage shows up,” Watermeier said. “Cracks in the exterior plaster that slowly let moisture in are going to cause problems five years from now.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.