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Except for the occasional bump in the road, the reconstruction of the Canal Street streetcar line is . . .


Workers are focused, on schedule, RTA says

The Times Picayune, 07/09/02

By Leslie Williams
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune

On the drawing board, the resurrection of the Canal streetcar line seems a simple task: Lay 3.6 miles of track along the neutral ground between Baronne Street and City Park Avenue and string the overhead wiring to power the line.

Dig a trench. Pour in concrete. Put the rails down and stick some light poles in the ground. Right?

Wrong. The $147 million project to return streetcar service to the city's central artery is a complex engineering challenge that, if done correctly, should last a half-century.

With traffic whizzing by, workers since last fall have been surveying, excavating, compacting fill material and leveling the earth. They saw through asphalt, pour and shape concrete, weld, grind, tweak the horizontal and vertical geometry of the rails, construct walkways, shelters, tree wells. They insert underground ducts for cables that will feed the overhead lines. They place rubber boots under the track to reduce the potential for stray current, bolt the rails and secure them with plinths.

"There are so many special disciplines involved," said Dean W. Simpson, manager of the Canal streetcar project. "It's checking, checking and rechecking."

The tests have been many for Boh Brothers Construction Co., which will be paid $35 million to install the track and cable and to build a substation to power the line.

Construction, which began in October, was shut down for two weeks so it would not interfere with Carnival. To accommodate businesses, workers are prohibited from closing more than one cross street at a time in the Central Business District. Workers are using the bundles of light green pipes on Mid-City medians to replace 12- and 20-inch water mains below the track bed.

"Although it was not the intention, you're going to end up with a new water line all the way from Galvez out to North Anthony as part of this project," Simpson said.

Underground bridges also have to be built over six subterranean drainage canals along the route. And the neutral ground has to be widened in Mid-City to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For all the planning, there's the occasional surprise.

In a section of median near Canal and South Broad streets, where campaign workers have hammered political signs into the earth for years, workers found a low-pressure 12-inch gas line in an unexpected spot, shallower than it should have been.

"It was put there in 1908 and was only 8 inches below the surface," Simpson said.

Rattled, but not derailed

Entergy shifted the gas service to a high-pressure line.

Discovering the gas line, moving water lines and shutting down for Carnival season have rattled, but not derailed, the project.

"So far, it looks like we'll make the October 2003 deadline -- unless we discover something else we're not aware of," said Fred Basha, the Regional Transit Authority's project manager for vehicles.

Boh Brothers has been on "an accelerated schedule" with about 50 people working on Canal Street most days, Simpson said.

In addition to the work on the lake side of Baronne Street, the $147 million price tag retroactively covers the cost of a half-mile stretch of Canal Street track built in 1997 from the river to Baronne Street to link the Riverfront line to the St. Charles Avenue line. The money, 80 percent federal and 20 percent local, also is paying for the construction of the Canal Street line's 24 air-conditioned cars, each equipped with a wheelchair lift; the building of a light-maintenance facility at the Regional Transit Authority complex on Canal Street; and expansion of the RTA facility at 8225 Willow St., where the new streetcars are being assembled.

The Canal line -- unlike the St. Charles and Riverfront lines, where crossties support the rail -- uses a reinforced concrete base, which requires less maintenance. The return of the line, which closed in May 1964 after rolling for more than a century, will be followed by the creation of a spur line along North Carrollton Avenue from Canal Street to Beauregard Circle near City Park.

The spur should be operating by April 2004 at a cost of $14.2 million, Simpson said.

Saving space

The Canal Street line will be less uniform in appearance than other streetcar lines in the city.

The light poles that will support the overhead power lines will change as the cars move from the CBD to Mid-City. The ornate light poles on Canal Street from the river to Claiborne Avenue will remain while the Mid-City stretch is equipped with more than 400 more modern poles donated by New Orleans oilman Pat Taylor.

The concrete streetcar surface that runs through the CBD will be covered with turf in Mid-City from Prieur Street to City Park Avenue. Palm trees will border the outside of the tracks in the CBD, but will be placed in the middle of the two sets of tracks in Mid-City.

"This route from Prieur out to the cemetery is going to be different than every other streetcar route in the city, in that the trees are going to be between rails -- an economical footprint, no room for trees on the outside," Simpson said.

Even the width of the median will not be uniform: 46.7 feet from the river to Claiborne Avenue; 35.2 feet from Claiborne to North Anthony Street and 21.2 feet from North Anthony to City Park Avenue.

"It's being done in a way that won't result in the loss of any traffic lanes," Simpson said. A bus lane near the intersection of City Park Avenue and Canal will be lost, "but it'll be converted into an automobile lane because we'll no longer have bus lines that run up and down Canal," he said.

. . . . . . .

Leslie Williams can be reached at lwilliams@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3358.


The Times-Picayune. .


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