RTA lists worthy projects; let's be sure they're well designed

TIGER III dollars would link and extend streetcar service.

By Stephen Crim, The Lens contributing opinion writer |

With applications due at the end of the month for TIGER III grants for transportation infrastructure, the federal government will soon be playing Santa Claus to transit agencies around the nation. As in the past, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has put together a wish list.

This year, the list includes a streetcar line down Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue to Poland Avenue, and new tracks on Howard Avenue to connect the Loyola line (funded by the first round of TIGER grants) to the St. Charles line.

Among the many investments that the RTA might want to make with TIGER III money, these are worthy ones. Extending new rail service to downriver communities and linking  new rail infrastructure to the old creates a network of streetcar service that improves transit options across the city.

But if New Orleans is lucky enough to win Tiger III dollars, we need to maximize their benefit by making sure the new lines are well designed.

Specifically, the RTA needs to order  its contractor, AECOM, to analyze which options will provide the most reliable and expedient service.  This means exploring the operational impact of placing new tracks on expanded neutral grounds on Rampart and St. Claude, so that streetcars can run unimpeded by traffic. The current design places them in the street.

Good design also includes installing technology that allows traffic light cycles to change when a streetcar approaches so that the rail cars don’t need to wait behind red lights. Such measures are standard on new rail lines around the world, and knowledgeable area residents have been asking for them for years. They will increase the speed, reliability, and utility of the new lines, thus increasing ridership and improving the line’s long-term financial performance.

RTA representatives have said they want dedicated rights of way and traffic signal priority for streetcars, but they have not included them in their designs thus far. The RTA, the City’s Department of Public Works, the Sewerage and Water Board, and utility companies need to work together to make these essential improvements part of any new streetcar lines.

Not including them leaves us with sub-standard infrastructure and makes New Orleans a bad steward of the nation’s tax dollars.

Stephen Crim is a board member of Transport for NOLA, an organization that seeks to create a world-class transportation system in the Greater New Orleans region. For more information visit www.transportfornola.org

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