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New Orleans - June 2011

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New Orleans — Date Set for Loyola Streetcar Groundbreaking

Rail Transit Online, June 2011

June 1 - Six bids have been received for the $45-million federally-financed Loyola Avenue streetcar project, which will run for 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) from Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street. The New Orleans Regions Transit Authority board of directors is expected to award a construction contract at its June 28 meeting. RTA officials aren't waiting for the vote, however, with a groundbreaking ceremony including U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood scheduled for June 7.

The federal grant was awarded to New Orleans as part of an effort to stimulate "creative projects" and business development. The strategy appears to be working, with hotel renovations, new apartments and retail projects already underway. Existing streetcars will be used on Loyola Avenue and revenue service should be underway in about a year.

Meanwhile, the RTA has authorized a request for proposals on a contract for final design of the French Quarter streetcar loop along North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue between Canal Street and Press Street, with a 1.2-mi. (1.93 km) branch on Elysian Fields Avenue connecting with the Riverfront line at Esplanade Avenue. Funding totaling $90 million is already available and officials hope to start construction in late 2012 or early 2013.

Tie Replacement Halted

A $7-million, 15-month tie replacement project on the New Orleans St. Charles streetcar line has been halted indefinitely after the contractor abandoned the job without explanation.

Smith Railway Services Inc., which was awarded the contract, had actually begun preparatory work along Carrollton Avenue. Then, according to an interview with Regional Transit Authority General Manager Justin Augustine in The Times-Picayune, company officials "...started making excuses, giving us multiple reasons why they couldn't proceed." On April 28 Smith sent a letter to the RTA seeking to cancel the deal even as the transit agency issued a breach of contract notice.

The RTA hasn't paid the company anything and in addition holds a $1.3-million completion bond for the first segment of the line. If the surety company cannot present a plan to complete the first phase of the tie replacement program by the end of this month, it must make a cash payment to the RTA.

Meanwhile, once attorneys have clarified the agency's legal position, officials will decide whether to sign an agreement with the second lowest bidder or re-advertise the project. The wood ties were last replaced in 1988 but have begun deteriorating from the effects of termite infestation and rot caused by New Orleans' hot, humid climate. This time, a recycled rubber-plastic composite material will be used instead of wood.

The approximately 13-mi. (20.9 km) line, the RTA's busiest, has been divided into 11 work areas. While construction is underway on each section, streetcars will be single-tracked around the area using temporary crossovers.

Loyola Groundbreaking Held

June 15 - A construction contract has yet to be awarded for the Loyola Avenue streetcar line in New Orleans but U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and officials of the Regional Transit Authority held a groundbreaking ceremony for the project on June 7.

However, low bidder Archer Western Contractors has been recommended by staff and the RTA board of directors is expected approve the $34.5-million deal later this month, allowing work to start in July. The 1.5-mi. (2.4 km) line has been fully funded by a $45-million federal stimulus grant. The tracks will connect Canal Street with the Union Passenger Terminal and have four new stops.

During his speech at the ceremony, held just outside of the railroad station, LaHood reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to modern streetcars. "Streetcars are coming back to America,"' said LaHood. "You know, back in the old days, a lot of communities had streetcars. And then they paved over the tracks. Now, there's a lot of communities that want to get back into the streetcar business. Again, New Orleans has been the leader in this, and we're delighted to make the kind of investments we're making."

LaHood also announced a $400,000 grant to the RTA for a new streetcar maintenance training program that will produce skilled workers. It was one of 12 awards made nationwide by the FTA to promote staff training and development in the transit industry.


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