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New Orleans - September 1999

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New Orleans – Tax Approved

Rail Transit Online, September 1999

A Civil District Court Judge ruled on Aug. 5 that the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority can begin collecting its one percent sales tax on hotel and motel rooms but just one day later an appeal was filed. The RTA last month asked permission to overturn a provision of the sales tax law that exempted hotel and motels, claiming it is illegal under the state constitution. The estimated $6 million in annual revenue will fund the city’s 20 percent share of construction costs on the proposed $153 million Canal streetcar line and pay for other capital projects. The judge said the tax could go into effect on Aug. 15. But the local hospitality industry wasted no time in launching a fight in the state Court of Appeal, which froze collection of the tax pending further arguments in the case. The Executive Vice President of the Greater New Orleans Hotel-Motel Association said he intends to take the case all the way to the state Supreme Court if necessary. The hotels claim the sales tax, on top of an 11 percent occupancy tax and a surcharge of up to $3 per room, could drive visitors away. But the RTA found that other popular U.S. tourist destinations have hotel taxes ranging up to 17 percent. In addition, said the agency, the return of streetcars to Canal Street will provide an added tourist attraction.

A Streetcar Named Desire (Almost)

A consultant report on a proposed streetcar line in New Orleans’ Desire Street corridor has been released. The project would cost about $82 million and run approximately three miles from Canal Street along North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue. There would be a stop at Desire Street but the study indicated the route would be named the St. Claude line. On North Rampart, the tracks would be laid in the left traffic lane.  Passengers would board and alight from the neutral ground on both Rampart and St. Claude, although the latter right-of-way may have to be widened. The year-long study was prepared by Parsons Brinckerhoff, who also recommended substantial changes in bus service. The consultants looked at two proposed extensions of the Riverfront streetcar line along the river and then inland, creating a rail loop around the French Quarter. But these were rejected, primarily due to their high cost. RTA officials said they will request funding from the Federal Transit Administration for preliminary engineering and an environmental impact study for the St. Claude line even though no construction money has been identified and the agency is faced with a substantial deficit. The earliest that work on the line could begin is 2002.


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