Rampart streetcar extension to open in 2015, RTA says
11th March 2013 · 0 Comments
By Susan Buchanan
Work will begin next year on a $71 million North Rampart streetcar extension, linked to the new Loyola Ave. line and funded by a sales-tax bond, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority leaders said at a public meeting Wednesday. The Rampart segment should open for riders in late 2015 and will run from Canal St. to Elysian Fields. The RTA is committed longer term to extending the line along St. Claude Ave. across Press St. to Poland Ave. and eventually to the St. Bernard Parish line, Justin Augustine, senior vice president of Veolia Transdev said Wednesday.
Bill Norquist, an engineer with RTA contractor AECOM Transportation, said Rampart streetcars will run up against, but not on the neutral ground—which is already full of cables, AT&T trunk lines, gas lines and an underground drainage canal dating to the 1800s. Streetcar drivers will have their own lane during rush hours but will share pavement with autos and trucks the rest of the time. Augustine said “a psychological signal of “don’t get in that lane” could keep autos away from streetcar tracks at non-peak times, however.
Word that a dedicated bike lane is planned for one side of Rampart St., heading toward Canal, drew cheers from the audience—which included over a hundred residents, some of whom had biked to the meeting at the French Quarter Hyatt.
Norquist said “the Rampart streetcar design phase is about 60 percent done, and details are gelling but nothing is finalized.” Engineers plan to minimize streetcar squeal and howl, especially near the downtown theater district, he said. Shelters with roofs, seating, ticket vending machines and bike racks are planned for Conti, St. Ann, Ursuline, Esplanade, Pauger and Elysian Fields. Neighborhood associations have been asked to design icons and provide narratives for shelters.
“The graphic could be a trumpet, a drum or a Chevy Cavalier, anything depicting the area,” Norquist said. Historic light poles and fixtures along the line will be repaired and maintained.
According to the RTA, more than 70,000 residents live in medium-density neighborhoods adjacent to the Rampart corridor. Many of them work in CBD businesses or the downtown hospitality industry.
In Wednesday’s question-and-answer session, Bywater real-estate developer Pres Kabacof said transportation drives development and the streetcar should encourage more people to live near the corridor. Slowing down vehicular traffic on St. Claude Ave,. where trucks whiz by the Healing Center—a modern-day mini-mall—might be a good thing, he said.
As for a railroad bottleneck if the line is extended to Press St., an audience member suggested that an underpass for the streetcar be built at St. Claude and Press, where the Norfolk Southern railroad runs.
Sandra Stokes, board member at the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, said with at least seven plans in the works to alter downtown traffic grids and reduce lanes—from the BioDistrict of New Orleans to the Claiborne expressway’s possible tear-down—city planners need to consider their combined impact on auto and truck traffic.
The RTA plans to hold its next public meeting on the Rampart streetcar line in May. RTA board chairwoman Barbara Major said Wednesday the agency wants to hear as much input as possible from residents. To offer your comments and to learn more, visit www.norta.com.
The RTA Board of Commission-ers signed a management contract with Veolia Transportation in 2008 and formed a public-private partnership with the company in 2009. Veolia Transportation, based in Chicago, is the top, private North American, public-transit operator and is a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement in France.◊
This article originally published in the March 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.