The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority is negotiating the extension of a bus route into St. Bernard Parish, the latest push by the agency to forge transit connections between New Orleans and the rest of the region.
If St. Bernard officials approve, the RTA's No. 84 Galvez line would continue out North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans to the Walmart store and St. Bernard Parish Hospital on West Judge Perez Drive in Chalmette, easing commutes for riders looking to shop, work or see doctors in the adjacent parish.
RTA Interim Executive Director Jared Munster stressed that nothing is final, however, until leaders in both parishes agree.
St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis would say only that officials will discuss the proposal in detail when they meet this week.
“I have an open mind," McInnis said. "Members of our administration are looking forward to the meeting.”
The extension of the Galvez line would be the second time this fall the RTA has extended a bus route into a neighboring parish. Starting Sept. 30, the agency will run its No. 39 Tulane Avenue line beyond the current end point at South Claiborne Avenue and Mistletoe Street in Orleans Parish to a new end point at Causeway Boulevard and Jefferson Highway in Jefferson Parish. The extension will go past the main Ochsner Medical Center campus.
The extended bus routes, along with a "Regional Ride" daily pass the RTA and Jefferson Transit debuted last week, are aimed at finally giving the RTA a bit of the regional reach lawmakers intended when they established the agency in 1979.
Instead, each of the four parishes the RTA was supposed to serve — Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. Tammany — today has its own transit system.
The St. Bernard system has only one route, from Arabi to Poydras. In Arabi, its buses stop at St. Claude Avenue and Mehle Avenue near the Orleans-St. Bernard line. There are currently no shared passes between the two agencies, which means residents of one parish must change buses and pay a separate fare to ride into the other.
But the proposed extension would at least give Orleans residents heading to Walmart and the hospital — which face each other on West Judge Perez Drive in Chalmette — an easier trip.
The Galvez route now ends at St. Claude and St. Maurice avenues, where New Orleans riders headed to Chalmette transfer to the 88-St. Claude line and ride to where St. Bernard's bus picks people up.
As St. Bernard's buses don't operate on weekends or after 7:50 p.m. on weekdays, those riders have limited options.
Under the route change now under review, the Galvez line would continue its current loop from North Claiborne up Caffin Avenue to Florida Avenue and then back along Tupelo Street to North Claiborne, Munster said.
But instead of crossing over North Claiborne on Tupelo to finish at St. Claude and St. Maurice, the bus would turn onto Claiborne, which becomes West Judge Perez, and stop at West Judge Perez and Jean Lafitte Parkway.
"We are also looking at adding another bus to the 84 line to improve service on that line, regardless of where it's going to end," Munster said.
Any moves that would help Lower 9th Ward residents quickly access the Chalmette Walmart, the closest major grocery store to a New Orleans neighborhood that has struggled to attract residents and businesses since Hurricane Katrina, would be welcome, said Alex Posorske of RIDE New Orleans, a transit advocacy group.
The change "is pretty key and it’s pretty consistent with what RIDE is advocating for: not just stopping at (parish) lines on a map, but really planning out the places that we want to go," Posorske said.
Many employees of the hospital and Walmart are also inclined to support the proposal. "Maybe that's where it's coming from," McInnis said.
As of yet, other St. Bernard residents haven't given much feedback on the idea, he said.
Andrew Jacques, the head of the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation, was also hesitant to speak about the plan until he knows more about it. But in general, he said, more transit choices are a good thing for residents.
"From an economic development perspective, we are always trying to improve transit options for our citizens," Jacques said.