Land Use

Study of elevated I-10 over Claiborne to get underway; demolition being considered

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

After more than a year of delay, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration soon will begin a long-anticipated federally funded study of how to revitalize the North Claiborne Avenue corridor, his planning director Bill Gilchrist said this week.

The study, which is expected to take more than a year of work by a city-contracted consultant, will be partially financed by a $2 million grant awarded to the city by President Barack Obama’s administration in October of 2010.

The study will look at the feasibility of redeveloping the city’s busiest interior highway, including the possibility of demolishing the elevated Interstate 10 expressway between Elysian Fields Avenue and the Pontchartrain Expressway, near the Superdome. A private study done by the Congress for the New Urbanism found that returning Claiborne to the street grid by turning the expressway into a multilane boulevard would cause minimal traffic delays — four to six minutes differences in most trips, traffic planners say — while reconnecting historic neighborhoods, making them more tourist-friendly and attractive for investment.

Built in the 1960s, the 2.2-mile highway’s construction destroyed the tree-lined commercial spine of the Treme neighborhood. For decades, neighbors have criticized it as an emission-spewing wall dividing vibrant downtown communities from less-affluent neighbors, and discouraging investment.

“It never should’ve been built, and it has never been a healthy neighbor to my community,” said Vaughn Fauria, president of NewCorp business assistance center nearby on St. Bernard Avenue.

And while many area residents, business owners and real-estate developers share that view, others are skeptical the move would benefit the people who have made home in theinterstate’s shadow.

Conde Monier, 25, and a business management student at Dillard University, could hear the interstate from his childhood bedroom in the 7th Ward. In February, he and his family opened a barebones daiquiri shop in a strip mall on Claiborne, near Laharpe St., Just Chill Food and Daiquiris. The expressway’s rumble is Monier’s white noise. Its traffic breaks up his skyline.

“It’s what I see,” he said recently.

Monier points to a blue Ford Expedition parked under the elevated highway.

“That guy parks there every day during his lunch break and takes a nap,” he said. He points to a faded painting of an oak tree on one of the highway’s concrete beams. “That’s where the second lines come.”

Conde Monier owns a daiquiri shop on Claiborne opposite the elevated Interstate. He questions how its demolition will benefit him. Photo by Ariella Cohen

The dreadlocked entrepreneur doesn’t believe that tearing down the expressway would benefit his business, or the second line parade-goers that refuel at his shop.

“Destruction is not where you start,” he said. “They say they want to tear down to build up. I feel like they are really tearing it down so then they have a reason to tell people not to be here, not to hang out here.”

Others share his doubts.

At a forum on the future of the interstate held Tuesday at the Louisiana Humanities Center, one person in the audience raised her hand to ask why more neighborhood residents hadn’t been surveyed on the issue.  A young man asked if planners were considering that that overpass was being used, if only as shelter from rain and sun during Mardi Gras parades and second lines.

For the older generation that remembers the shopping on a tree-lined, pre-interstate Claiborne, opposition to tearing down the intrusion is almost nonsensical.

On Wednesday afternoon, Conde Monier’s mother, Crystal Clay, sat behind the counter of her son’s empty daiquiri shop and reminisced.

“Tearing it down would be good for business,” she said. “Right now, people get on the freeway and they just keep going, never even seeing us down here.”

“Don’t you think?” she prodded her son.

The decision belongs to Landrieu and the federal government, which the mayor will depend on to help finance either a demolition of the highway or needed repairs that the Federal Highway Administration estimates will cost more than $50 million. The forthcoming study of Claiborne will weigh the cost of tearing down the expressway, as well as the cost of alternatives.

Advocates say removing the expressway will be cheaper over the long term than continuing to maintain the aging structure. For context, in Milwaukee, it cost about $45 million in 2002 to demolish a one-mile stretch of highway and reconstruct the road. The city, the state and the federal government shared the cost. Under the terms of the federal planning grant,  the city must contribute at least $758,000 in money or services as a match.

John Norquist, who was mayor of Milwaukee when it dismantled the inner-city highway and is now president of the Congress for the New Urbanism said it would have cost about $80 million to rebuild the Milwaukee freeway. Norquist’s group co-sponsored Tuesday’s forum, with a coalition of neighborhood groups called NewCity Neighborhood Partnership.

While Landrieu has remained somewhat taciturn about the potential teardown, the move would be aligned with his stated commitment to building a denser, more bike-  and pedestrian-friendly downtown. Gilchrist appears on board.

“This could be a tremendous opportunity to reconnect two of the city’s most historic neighborhoods,” he said Tuesday. “This could be a game-changer.”

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  • Susan Wayman

    I’m all for returning Claiborne Avenue to its beautiful, pedestrian-friendly, pre-overpass state. Thank you for publishing this. Now I’ll look for photos of the Milwaukee project.

  • Claire Tancons

    “For the older generation that remembers the shopping on a tree-lined, pre-interstate Claiborne, opposition to tearing down the intrusion is almost nonsensical.”


    How can there be any doubt in restoring a neighborhood to its original, historical integrity over maintaining past segregating urban policies?

    I look forward to the day when the oak trees will grow again.

  • Brad

    Thanks for the report. In general I support the elevated I-10’s demolition — but the tie-ins at either end, as well as at the I-610 will be important. Ramps from the Pontchartrain Expressway need to be preserved up to the Historic Medical District (allowing access to the elevated expressway for emergency vehicles into the new LSU/VA complex, Charity Hospital’s parking ramp, etc.) On the eastern end, the expressway should end at St. Bernard — allowing direct access to Claiborne Avenue. Also — the interchanges with I-610 will need to afford direct east-bound access from the Pontchartrain Expressway (not through Lakeview like it is now) and west-bound access at the I-610/I-10 junction between Elysian Fields/Franklin and Louisa.

    Done right, we can be rid of this blight.

  • Tim G

    The pro-demo folks are dreaming. I hate to point out just how wrong you have it…
    (A) The added ground-level traffic will render Claiborne virtually uncrossable by pedestrians.
    (B) Goodbye market. Goodbye second line(s). Goodbye shelter and family gatherings.
    (C) Next time it floods that area, where are you going to “vertically evacuate” to? That’s right. Nowhere!
    (D) Look westward at S. Claiborne Avenue…. just how “historic” and “free of blight” and “welcoming” is that?
    Don’t be fooled by the urban planners’ charettes on this … it will be an expensive, wrong-headed gamble.

  • Stephen C

    Tim G is right that S. Claiborne is hideous because it is; however, that’s not a valid reason to keep a highway.

    The more important question is when will this planning process start? When will there be chance for the public to interact on this?

  • Will L

    I think that Tim G. has a great point here. It will be very difficult to support the same level of traffic and still have enough neutral ground to restore Claiborne to it’s pre-expressway condition. Pedestrians and bicycles can easily pass beneath the expressway, but once all that traffic is on the ground, lights will need to be include extra delays to accomodate the pedestrians. Not saying it can’t be done – that is what the traffic engineers will determine in this report – it’s just not the panacea that people who remember Claiborne “as it used to be” are thinking of. It will still be a big ugly wide strip of asphalt with LOTS more traffic and neutral ground just big enough to accomodate a u-turn (if that, depends upon how many lanes are required to maintain level of service based). Also, if Claiborne is supposed to be returned to a bustling commercial corridor, let me ask – where is everyone supposed to park? Will we have a major highway with an on-street parking lane? Can this be accomodated within the street right-of-way?

    It should be noted that the emissions that are now being spewed above people’s roofline will not go away, but will be spewed at the front door of every business on Claiborne instead. It should also be noted that the Congress for the New Urbanism’s report stated that there would be “minimal” traffic delays. Once again this is something that will have to be verified by the new study in question before being accepted as truth (the final configuration and design may dictate different parameters).

    I sure hope they can tear it down, it sure would be nice – but it’s not a simple proposition.

  • Angelo

    I don’t understand how bringing I-10 traffic to street level with a big multi-lane boulevard would reconnect the neighborhoods, or reduce traffic and emissions. How does eliminating that space for pedestrians and cyclists and and installing traffic lanes make it more inviting? That part of Claiborne isn’t going to be returned back to its peaceful tree-lined days. A multi-lane boulevard with interstate traffic at street level would definitely not re-connect neighborhoods. It would likely just make it more difficult for walkers and cyclists to cross.

  • Ray P

    If done properly, dismantling the overpass could be the best thing to ever happen to Claiborne, Broad, and Galvez street. That added traffic and attention will help businesses because now drivers get on the expressway and don’t see a business until they hit Metairie.

    Also, a pretty tree lined neutral ground will reduce the heat-island effect in a downtown environment.

    I don’t think sheltering people in the rain one day a year is a good enough argument for keeping this monstrosity.

  • Jason Straight

    the interstate is only half the problem. The three lane each direction no street parking 35mph stretch of Claiborne Uptown is just as destructive. If you look at all the streets in New Orleans that work they are 1 or 2 lanes each way max with wide neutral grounds, on street parking, and street trees old enough and large enough to provide shade and protection. Claiborne as it has been developed is purely arterial it has one purpose which is to get cars from point A to point B everything else be damned. Imagine St. Charles as a 3 lane each way without the oaks and cars moving on it at 35-40mph.

  • Joe

    Some of the above commenters seem to be operating under the impression that the entirety of I-10 traffic will be diverted onto a city street under this plan. The vast majority of cars that currently rumble over Claiborne will move to the 610 alignment. The only traffic that will move onto Claiborne is cross-town, local drivers.

  • Mike

    Guys, in regards to your comments about alleviation of traffic, right now all traffic is pushed onto 1, three-lane road (I-10). The traffic engineers when they do this analysis notice that traffic will then spread over the entire street grid as opposed to 1 artery. Also, 610 and the pontchatrain expressway will still exist so to me their analysis seems reasonable.