A South Carrollton Avenue sidewalk graffiti artist keeps it short and simple.

Despite the usual grumbles about orange cones, plus concern over the well-being of the city’s historic oak trees, drivers and residents generally welcomed the news that nearly all 2.5 miles of South Carrollton Avenue is being repaved and the sidewalks repaired.

The Times-Picayune quoted a city official who said it may be the first time the boulevard has been fully redone in 40 years. The story was followed by a reader comment that this is the kind of work that makes it appear we live in a real city again.

Now for the wet-blanket parts of the deal: The contractor says the $7 million worth of work being done can be expected to last 10 years – at most. And the sidewalks will soon sport handicap-accessible ramps at every intersection, replete with screaming yellow bumpy pads.

It’s the same story for the myriad other roads being fixed through the federally financed Submerged Roads Program, billed as a repair and overlay project. Here’s the list of all projects in the city, such as the recent work started on most of Orleans Avenue. We would point you to the Submerged Roads Program Web site, but it’s recently been taken down, maps and all. They’re still fielding questions, though, at 1-800-574-7193

The project that so far has devoured the lakebound side of South Carrollton is far from comprehensive,  said Larry Blazek,  a manager for HNTB, the Kansas City-based company overseeing the work. He said  the project is considered “repair grade,” and could last as few as 5 years, with 10 years at the outside.  All of this a depends on the state of the subsurface roadway – and generally, ours is hardly considered ideal for road construction.

A 2008 Bureau of Governmental Research entitled “Street Smarts” states: In New Orleans, more than elsewhere, the poor soil conditions that plague many areas lead to either greater upfront costs or more rapid deterioration. As a general rule, pavement type and traffic being equal, streets built on solid ground will have a longer life expectancy than those built on drained swampland or otherwise weak ground.

As far as the sidewalk ramps, the bright yellow hasn’t scored a lot of aestheic points in historic areas where they’ve been installed. Other options that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act are available, but neither the city nor the contractor sought public input on them. In fact, no public input was sought – or required – for any part of these projects.

That’s because they are considered projects that enjoy “categorical exclusion” status.

A bit of government-speak from the U.S. Transportation Department explains what that is:

“…actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment … and … for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required.”

Just don’t tell all those people along Carrollton, or the closed side streets, that this isn’t having a significant effect on their “human environment.”

But back to the sidewalk ramps. The city sets the design standards for the work, the city designates its criteria and the contractor follows those standards.

As a warning to visually impaired pedestrians, the law requires that the color of the ramps must contrast sharply with the surrounding sidewalk, and it has to have a bumpy surface that would be easily recognized underfoot or by a cane.

Fair enough. But at least one company offers a variety of colors. And with the new white concrete sidewalks, it sure seems like black or dark gray would offer the necessary contrast without calling to mind Tweety Bird.

Out of common courtesy, it seems that someone could have asked the the nearby residents about this. Or maybe that’s just thilly talk.

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...