By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

It costs $1 million to reconstruct a one-block stretch of city street in New Orleans.

You read that right.  That covers work from asphalt down to the muddy subterranean, and from sidewalk to sidewalk, including stormwater catch basins and curbs, Deputy Mayor  Cedric Grant told the City Council Wednesday.

“That’s the labor, the materials and the engineering,” Grant said.

Grant, who presented the figure to the council’s Public Works committee, offered it as an example of the fiscal challenges that face the city as it attempts to fix roads victimized by decades of neglect as well as Mother Nature. Built on soggy marshland and the soft silt of the Mississippi River, the land New Orleans sits on is sinking at a faster rate than most urban centers, making it an especially tough place to build streets that last.

“We’re paying for the environment,” Grant said. “In New York, you’re working with rock. Here, its mud.”

For perspective on how many millions of dollars it would cost to reconstruct all the city’s streets, consider that the French Quarter, about one square mile in size, covers 78 square blocks, 13 blocks long and 6 blocks deep. The city as a whole covers 180 square miles. If the size of the blocks across the city were to be the same length, about 13 to a mile, then the city would be 2,160 blocks. Which gets us to $2 billion.

The city has about $330 million in federal grants and money from 2000 and 2004 bond issues set aside for roadwork. Recently, the city and FEMA announced that the federal agency plans to send tens of millions of dollars more for repairs of neighborhood streets, but city officials have stressed that even this additional money won’t fully cover the cost of reconstructing the city’s aging water pipes and drainage system.