Land Use
 

Filled-in canal drives up cost of planned Loyola Avenue streetcar extension


The planned streetcar line runs along Loyola Avenue from the Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street.

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

A bridge running over a buried canal beneath a streetcar track — the setup sounds like a backdrop for the post-industrial romance of an Arcade Fire video.

On Loyola Avenue in the Central Business District, however, the infrastructure sandwich will soon be a very expensive reality – and one that has raised the price of putting a streetcar line on the corridor by several million dollars, according to engineers working on the track with the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority.

Initial plans for the Loyola Avenue extension, which will run from Canal Street to the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal at the intersection of Loyola and Howard Avenue, pegged the cost   of the 1.5-mile line to fall somewhere between $27 million and $30 million. Yet the final cost will be closer to $34 million, said Lance Nowacki, project scheduler for the Archer Western, the Illinois-based contracting giant selected for the 12-month job.

Nowacki blames a large portion of the increased costs on a shipping canal that connected Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River through what is now the CBD. Shoveled out by by Irish immigrants in the 1830s, the New Basin Canal was covered over in the late 1930s and early 1940s. A turning basin that occupied the area that is now Loyola Avenue between Julia Street and Howard Avenue was covered over in 1937, according to Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella.

Now the vestigial remains must be secured and spanned by a bridge strong enough to support streetcars, Nowacki said.

“You want to make sure that ground is solid and secure,” he said.

A $45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will cover the much-anticipated project’s tab.The so-called TIGER grant requires that the new line open for service by mid 2012. Nowacki said that construction will begin in August and conclude by next July.

Transit advocates with the group Transport for Nola have requested that the RTA redirect any grant funds left over from the Loyola corridor extension to another streetcar extension planned along North Rampart Street and then St. Claude Avenue, between Canal Street and Press Street. The city has $90 million in hand for the project but the transport group would like to see additional funds secured to pay for a rebuilt neutral ground made wide enough to carry the tracks and a more pedestrian-friendly right-of-way, according to a petition submitted to the RTA.

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  • Minor correction: The New Basin Canal did not connect to the river. The canal ran in a corridor now occupied by the I-10/Pontchartrain Expressway from the turning basin (the edge of it is marked by the canted facade of the Plaza Tower) to West End Boulevard where it turned north and continued to the lake.