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New Orleans - March 2004

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New Orleans — Canal Opening Set

Rail Transit Online, March 2004  

The restored Canal Street streetcar line has been scheduled for an Apr. 18 opening, more than six months after the initial start date was postponed to allow street and sidewalk repairs to be completed along the famous thoroughfare (see RTOL, Dec. 2003).  Revenue service was then to have begun in March until apparent violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act were discovered in the incline and surface materials of curb cuts near streetcar stops.  Also at issue is the width of gratings over sewer openings, a sidewalk slope and landscaping deficiencies.  None of these would probably have been noticed by transit riders but a consultant who specializes in handicapped issues reported the problems to the Regional Transit Authority.  Repairs will cost an estimated $1.9 million but it’s not clear who will be responsible, the city, the RTA, the design team or the contractor.  “This is a complicated issue,” RTA Chairman James Reiss told The Times-Picayune.  “I don't know if there were any design or construction errors, but we're certainly going to look into it.”  All of the required modifications will be completed by opening day.  The 3.1-mi. (5 km), $161-million line was to have opened last Oct. 11, returning streetcars to Canal after a 40-year lapse.  A 1.1-mi. (1.77 km) branch to City Park along Carrollton Avenue was due to be completed in February but will open along with Canal. 

Web site: www.canalstreetcar.com/index.html

Desire Line Delayed

Consultants planning the Desire Line, New Orleans’ next proposed streetcar extension, have been directed to suspend work on the project while city officials reassess their funding strategy.  A Feb. 6 letter to Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas Inc. (PBQ&D) ordered the firm “…to immediately stop all work and incur no additional costs of any kind.”  When word of the delay got out, Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Chairman James Reiss had to quickly deny the new line was threatened.  “This is not the death knell for Desire,” Reiss told The Times-Picayune.  “We just want to take a step back and look at this project in terms of an overall strategic plan that will allow this agency to go forward in a very orderly and financially responsible manner.”  That strategic plan includes several other expensive transit proposals including extensions to one or both ends of Riverfront streetcar line, upriver to Jackson Avenue and/or downriver to Poland Avenue; a light rail route from downtown to Louis Armstrong International Airport; a new commuter bus service from the suburbs and the purchase of replacement buses.  None of the other rail projects have been studied in depth.  “We're trying to look at everything that we have on our plate,” Reiss told The Times-Picayune.  “And we want to look at them strategically as to what's best for New Orleans.  Yes, there's a (Desire) project under way, but we need to ask, 'Is this the right way to go?'” 


Called the Desire Line to capitalize on the popular Tennessee Williams play, the three-mile (4.8 km) route would run from the existing line on Canal Street to the Industrial Canal via North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue, although at one point it would cross Desire Street.  PBQ&D is currently preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and the RTA was tentatively planning to start final design this year.  Still unresolved is a controversy over how the streetcar tracks would cross a Norfolk Southern Railway freight line at St. Claude and Press Street (see RTOL, Nov. 2003).  To save money, the RTA wants a level crossing protected by electronic warning devices and automatic gates.  But the railroad has refused on safety grounds.  The RTA says an underpass is not feasible because the area’s shallow water table would make it prone to flooding.  An overpass is opposed by nearby residents on esthetic grounds and by the RTA, which says the $27-million structure is unaffordable.  That standoff could kill the project, although RTA officials say a downriver extension of the Riverfront line could be an alternative, albeit one that would serve far fewer potential riders.  In the six years since work on Desire began, the RTA has spent $7.4 million, with total capital costs estimated at $108 million.  The city hopes to get at least 40 percent of that from Washington. 

Web site: www.regionaltransit.org/


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