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The RTA presses pause on a plan to speed up streetcar service by closing intersections and decreasing the number of stops on the Canal Street streetcar line. 

CANAL STREETCAR? NOT SO FAST, RESIDENTS SAY

About 50 community members went to a Mid-City neighborhood meeting last week ready to air their grievances over changes proposed by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to speed up the Canal Street streetcar line by eliminating stops and closing intersections.

“This feels like an assault on our community and our neighborhood to no good end,” resident Mary Howell said.

RTA officials attempted to steer the conversation toward general feedback and suggestions for the streetcar, rather than defending their original proposal. “We put the cart before the horse a little bit,” said Tim Kennedy, special project director for the RTA’s private operating firm, Transdev. “We should have come out to you first and gotten your comments about your experiences with the Canal streetcar.”

The hotly contested proposal would have tested  a plan to eliminate 30 of the 49 stops along the route and close off 17 neutral-ground crossings to save an average of 12 minutes per trip in ride times between Carrollton Avenue and Harrah’s Casino at the river.

Currently, the streetcar stops every 1/10th of a mile — every one to three blocks, depending on the area.

The pilot project could have started as early as next month. But after pushback from residents, the RTA is taking additional time to get community input. Officials said it now will be at least September before any final decisions are made: “What we think is a great idea, the public that we serve may think is a terrible idea,” RTA Interim Executive Director Jared Munster told frustrated residents.

Residents also voiced concerns about safety, worrying about the impact that closing off intersections would have on emergency vehicle access. Several felt the ride time saved by eliminating stops would be negated by longer walk times for passengers, including longer walks at night.

The Canal Street route accommodates 17 percent of passengers in the RTA network and 90 percent of those are local riders. RTA officials referred to the route as the “backbone of our system.”

Other residents said trying to speed up the streetcar drastically was not practical and expressed interest in alternative solutions for faster travel, like an express bus. “The streetcar is meant to be a charming part of New Orleans, not a monorail,” resident Michelle Schlafly said.

Kennedy presented the RTA’s updated timeline on the project, including gathering community comments through May and conducting a full traffic study in June and August. When residents noted that a study done during months when school is out may not accurately reflect traffic during the rest of the year, Kennedy agreed the study should be moved.

The new MSY? Not so fast, officials say

The opening of the new Louis Armstrong International Airport will be pushed back until the fall, officials said, the fourth delay for the $1.03 billion building set to replace the existing airport.

The terminal was scheduled to open May 15, but airport officials said in a release last week that it would not meet that deadline because of "the complex coordination of construction activities during the final phase of this major project."

"I accept the responsibility of making sure that when our new airport opens, it is at 100 percent readiness,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in the news release. “The fact is: It is not ready, and there is more work to be done to get us there. I fully support the additional time needed and look forward to opening our new, completely operational facility at its peak on Day One.”

Aviation Director Kevin Dolliole said in a phone interview Thursday there was no single issue responsible for the delays. Instead, the opening had to be put off because of the domino effect of making changes to accommodate the concessionaires and government tenants that will be housed in the terminal, he said.

Given the amount of work that needs to be done, Dolliole said it did not make sense to try to rush things, especially since the current terminal remains fully functional. "You want to make sure you get it right at opening day," Dolliole said. "We’re going to be living in it for another 50 to 60 years, a few months delay is a small price to pay for something that is going to serve us for a long time.” Airport officials did not announce a new opening date.

The delay is not expected to cause a significant increase in the total cost of the new terminal. Officials said they will have a better sense of exactly when the facility could open as work progresses.

Plans to build the new terminal were approved in 2013, and the project initially was supposed to wrap up by May 2018, just in time for former Mayor Mitch Landrieu to cut the ribbon before leaving office. But that date already has been delayed three times, most recently to provide additional time to build a new sewage pipe for the terminal.

The cost of the terminal has ballooned from $650 million to almost $1.03 billion, in part because the original estimate did not include the cost of roadwork needed to access the terminal. Once the terminal is completed, it will be years before the roadwork intended to provide easy access to it is completed. State officials said in February the $125 million interchange at Interstate 10 and Loyola Avenue will not be done until 2023. — JEFF ADELSON | THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE

Survey shows strong support for higher minimum wage, teacher pay raises

A large majority of Louisiana residents favor pay raises for public school teachers and an $8.50 minimum wage, according to the latest installment of Louisiana State University’s Louisiana Survey — results Gov. John Bel Edwards, who supports both proposals, was quick to note in a statement and tweet to his followers.

“This LSU survey highlights what we already know to be true: the majority of Louisianans, regardless of party affiliation, want to give our teachers a pay raise and increase the minimum wage," Edwards said. "During this legislative session, state lawmakers have the opportunity to approve bills that will make both a reality.”

In his State of the State address April 9, Edwards voiced his support for both a $1,000 pay raise for public school teachers and a $9-per-hour state minimum wage, 50 cents higher than the amount in the LSU survey. The survey results showing bipartisan support for both of these issues and a budget surplus bode well for the governor as the legislative session begins.

According to the survey, 88 percent of residents support raising the salaries of public school teachers, with 93 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of Independents and 80 percent of Republicans in favor. The results further diverge among party lines when it comes to the issue of whether taxes should be raised in order to fund a teacher pay raise. Support then falls to 63 percent overall, with Republicans accounting for the largest drop, from 80 percent to 51 percent. (See Commentary, p. 12.)

When asked if they supported raising the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, 81 percent of Louisianans favored the idea. Louisiana does not have a state minimum wage, so its minimum wage is the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

The Public Policy Research Lab at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication conducts a series of surveys each year, polling Louisiana residents on their opinions on a variety of policies. This poll surveyed 917 Louisiana residents age 18 or older, with a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.

ERA supporters cast an eye toward Baton Rouge

Activists supporting the ratification of the decades-old federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) are eyeballing Louisiana to be the final state needed to jump on board, particularly as the state’s legislative session began last week.

The ERA — a constitutional amendment that would grant women the same legal protections as men — needs one more state’s approval for it to become part of the U.S. Constitution. HCR 2 by state Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, would make Louisiana the 38th state needed for the amendment’s ratification.

“Women do not have constitutional equality,” pro-ERA activist Angela Adkins said. “The only guarantee that women have in our Constitution is the right to vote.”

Congress originally passed the ERA in 1972, sending it to the states for passage. Five years later, 35 states had ratified the amendment, but a conservative opposition movement brought further progress to a halt.

The renewed push nationwide comes nearly 40 years after the ratification deadline set by Congress and amid the #MeToo movement and women’s marches across the country. Nevada ratified the act in 2017, and Illinois followed in 2018.

Louisiana is one of 13 states which have not ratified the amendment. Proponents say it would be a step forward in ending gender workplace discrimination, eliminating the gender pay gap and decreasing violence against women.

“Including equality based on sex explicitly as a part of the U.S. Constitution will highlight, to everyone in Louisiana and our nation, that the fight for women's rights must continue until these rights are a reality for all of us,” Adkins said.

Opponents of the amendment, such as Louisiana Right to Life, say it would threaten the constitutionality of abortion restrictions. “For years, pro-abortion groups have used the ERA successfully as a tool to expand abortion-on-demand and strike down common-sense pro-life laws,” the group said in a statement.

Some cite the expired Congressional deadline as another reason the ERA shouldn’t be ratified, while proponents say Congress only needs to extend or repeal that deadline.

Other hurdles include five states that have since rescinded their ratification of the amendment. It is legally unclear whether a state can take back its ratification once passed.

“The United States leads the world in policymaking,” Adkins said. “If we set an example that women are equal, we can change the way that women are treated around the globe, not just in the United States.”

Rolling … uh … Fleetwood … er … Widespread Panic to headline second Thursday of Jazz Fest

Jam band Widespread Panic will perform Thursday, May 2 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

The announcement came last week, just hours after it was revealed Fleetwood Mac canceled its headlining appearance due to lead singer Stevie Nicks' illness. Fleetwood Mac itself was a replacement for Jazz Fest's widely anticipated show by the Rolling Stones, which the band canceled after its lead singer, Mick Jagger, underwent heart surgery. (A third highly anticipated act, Jerry Lee Lewis, had canceled earlier this year after the 83-year-old Lewis had a stroke.)

Widespread Panic has performed often at Jazz Fest, most recently in 2017 on the Acura Stage. This year the band will present a two-and a-half-hour set, from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., once again on the Acura Stage.

For the second weekend, general admission tickets are good for any day. Also, attendees with a Louisiana ID can get $50 tickets at the gate for Thursday, April 25 and Thursday, May 2. Ticketholders who bought the special ticket for the lineup with the Rolling Stones can get a refund from Ticketmaster, according to a press release from Jazz Fest organizers.

Three men among 2019 Saintsations finalists

The New Orleans Saints announced the 55 finalists for the 2019 Saintsations team last week — and the group includes three men.

The Saints drew national attention (not all of it positive) last year when it became only the second NFL team to have a male cheerleader, Jesse Hernandez, a dance instructor from Maurice, Louisiana. After the New Orleans Advocate's Ramon Antonio Vargas profiled the Hernandez family, the story was linked on the front page of the Drudge Report, drawing dozens of hateful remarks aimed at Hernandez and the team. Shortly thereafter, Hernandez received a proclamation of support from the New Orleans City Council congratulating him, and he said local fans in the Superdome had been highly supportive.

Hernandez is one of the three male finalists for the 2019 cheer squad. The team identified the others only by first names and city of residence: "Dante from Vicksburg, MS" and "Dylon from Erath" (Louisiana).

The final Saintsaitions roster has not been announced.

Page, Isaacson to speak at Loyola’s annual Renwick lecture series

Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief of USA Today and author of the new biography "The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty," will be featured at the 10th annual Ed Renwick Lecture Series at Loyola University April 23.

Page will be in conversation with New Orleans author Walter Isaacson, former chairman of CNN, former editor of Time magazine and the author of biographies of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs.

The Renwick lecture series is free and open to the public. Page and Isaacson will begin their discussion at 7:30 p.m. in Loyola's Roussel Hall.

40 Under 40 nominations

 Every year Gambit honors the movers and shakers, the people who get things done or dazzle us with their creativity before reaching the age of 40. Gambit’s 2019 40 Under 40 class will be announced in June.

Nominate your favorite overachiever, business guru, do-gooder or creative thinker for the honor by sending an email to Kandace Graves at kandaceg@gambitweekly.com or filling out an online form at www.bestofneworleans.com/40under40nom. We need the candidate’s name, age, business title, cellphone and the reasons you believe they are a good candidate for the honor.

The submission deadline is 5 p.m. April 29.