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Claiborne study identifies four expressway paths

21st October 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

A $2.1 million Livable Claiborne Communities study wound down in October as community members attended two final meetings in a series dating to last December. The study, with $1.5 million from the feds and $600,000 in locally matched funding, represented Phase 0 in a six-phase process that will create federally-supported transportation projects, said William Gilchrist, the city’s director of place-based planning. He spoke at a public meeting at the Regional Planning Commission on Oct. 8. A similar meeting was held at the Christian Unity Baptist Church on Conti Street on Oct. 7.

At those events, the study’s planners unveiled scenarios for developing the area along Claiborne Ave. from Napoleon Ave. to Elysian Fields, and between Broad St. on the lake side and Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., Rampart St. and St. Claude Ave. on the Mississippi River side. A team of consultants led by Kittelson & Associates, Inc. in Oregon assisted in Phase 0. The study found that residents are concerned about cultural preservation, equity in development, ways to manage change to benefit the existing community, improving transportation and solutions for local flooding.

The project’s next step, Phase 1, will be a followup study required by the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA, Gilchrist said. After that, project funds will be sought in Phase 2. Phase 3 will focus on design, Phase 4 on project bidding, Phase 5 on construction and Phase 6 on maintenance.

In options for the elevated I-10 expressway over Claiborne, the LCC study identified four scenarios, without recommending one over another. This fall, city planners will submit these scenarios, based on transportation modeling done at the Regional Planning Commission, to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. Possibilities include keeping or removing the elevated portion and eliminating some or all of the exit ramps to re-link neighborhoods torn apart by the 1960s-era overpass.

In the study’s Scenario 1, the elevated I-10 over Claiborne stays but ramps at Orleans, St. Philip St. and Esplanade Ave. are removed. Ursuline Ave. would be reconnected across Claiborne Ave., helping to restore the Tremé neighborhood on both sides of I-10. The westbound I-10 off-ramp to Orleans Ave. would be torn down, restoring the corner of N. Claiborne and Dumaine St. for new building and re-stitching the fabric of N. Claiborne.

In Scenario 1, public transit service would be added along Claiborne Ave or parallel to it. Car traffic would increase, and two intersections could become significantly congested. But traffic would decline on some key corridors, especially Orleans Ave. and Rampart and Basin Streets since direct access to I-10 has been removed. Local truck deliveries that use the Tremé/French Quarter ramps at Orleans and Esplanade Avenues would have to take other routes. Truck traffic time would decline throughout the LCC area, however, because of a reduction in traffic entering and exiting ramps.

In Scenario 2, the elevated expressway stays and key ramps are removed. This scenario is more aggressive in removing ramps than Scenario 1. It leaves the I-10 bridge in place and introduces an access system along N. Claiborne, served by the surface street and including ramps at either end of the corridor. Flyover ramps between I-10 and Claiborne Ave. at St. Bernard would be removed, creating development options for that commercial node. In Scenario 2, planners envision the extension of street car service to N. Claiborne and a rapid bus crossing Canal St. and serving S. Claiborne.

In Scenario 2, ramp removal and street restoration, along with the Lafitte Greenway’s presence, help revitalize N. Claiborne between Orleans and Esplanade. Removing flyover ramps restores the N. Claiborne at St. Bernard street frontage for apartment and retail development.

Vehicular traffic increases in Scenario 2, but not evenly. Traffic declines on Orleans Ave and Canal with the removal of the I-10 ramps serving them. Travel times decrease between New Orleans East and downtown because of reduced congestion. But because ramps were removed, vehicles making local deliveries to Tremé and the French Quarter may need to take other routes.

In Scenario 2, truck and freight traffic between the Industrial Canal warehouses and the Port of New Orleans river terminals will stay well connected to I-10. This scenario would include an added on-ramp from Florida Ave. to westbound I-10 at Elysian Fields, giving trucks access to I-10 without requiring them to travel the length of Claiborne Ave. to Poydras St. Truck travel time through the LCC would decline in Scenario 2 because ramp removal has reduced merging traffic. Truck travel times should be about 5 percent less than today.

In Scenario 3a, the elevated I-10 is removed from Tulane Ave at St. Bernard Ave., Tremé, 7th Ward and Faubourg Lafitte neighborhoods all reap benefits from that removal. New public transit service would be added along Claiborne or parallel to it.

Car traffic would increase noticeably in Scenario 3a, however. Routes parallel to Claiborne Ave., including Broad St., Galvez, N. Rampart/St. Claude, would see much more traffic. Broad St. would carry the majority of it, with an expected near doubling from 30,000 vehicles today between Canal and Esplanade to 58,000. Traffic delays would be greatest at intersections. Delays at several intersections would be longer than they are now.

With the elevated Claiborne removed, trucks would use surface Claiborne to travel between the Industrial Canal and the Mississippi River port or would make a longer trip using the Pontchartrain Expressway and I-610. Morning truck times between the facilities would grow by nine minutes from today, and afternoon times would increase by up to 10 minutes.

In Scenario 3b, the elevated I-10 is removed from Tulane Ave to St. Bernard, as are the entire downtown interchanges connecting Claiborne and the Pontchartrain Expressway. Claiborne is restored to a local street, attracting development. The Poydras ramp is reconfigured to serve Galvez directly.

The Tremé, Seventh Ward and Faubourg Lafitte neighborhoods all reap benefits from removal of the overpass. This scenario introduces street connections crossing the Claiborne corridor near the downtown interchange north of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The intersection at Poydras and Claiborne Ave. becomes more attractive for commerce and community activities. A total of 72 block faces are created.

Under 3b, traffic increases, and the expressway’s removal requires drivers to use different routes than today to travel from the east to the CBD. But traffic is more balanced on local streets than in previous scenarios. Removal of the downtown interchange’s extensive series of ramps allows development near the Superdome and nearby hospitals.

In 3b, removal of the elevated Claiborne means trucks would have to use surface Claiborne to drive between the Industrial Canal and river port facilities, or they could take a longer route using the Pontchartrain Expressway and I-610. But unlike scenario 3a, several key truck routes should take less time than using the I-10 expressway today. Changes in the Pontchartrain Expressway in the Warehouse District/CBD area from its current concentration of access ramps to a system of express and local lanes should benefit trucks. Under 3b, trucks destined for the CBD and Felicity St. could travel on a possible, high-speed, collector-distributor elevated highway separated from car traffic traveling to the West Bank. Exit ramps at Claiborne, O.C. Haley-Rampart St., Camp-Magazine and Tchoup­itoulas should provide safe transitions to local streets.

At the October 8 meeting at the Regional Planning Commission, Gilchrist said it may be awhile before any decisions are made about I-10. In the meantime, issues identified by residents in the Phase 0 study can foster community building now, support investment in housing and quality-of-life projects, and match people with jobs at the downtown medical complex, Ashleigh Gardere, the new director of the Livable Claiborne Com­munities Initiative, said at the meeting. To learn more about the initiative and its sponsors and to get involved in the planning process, visit livableclaiborne.com on the web.

This article originally published in the October 21, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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