The layoff lawsuit covering more than 7,000 Orleans Parish School Board employees who lost their jobs after Hurricane Katrina could cost the taxpayers as much as $750 million, a School Board lawyer estimated Thursday. That’s enough to cripple what remains of the school system, but it’s only half the original estimate of $1.5 billion.

The Gateway team said the goals of the study are to reduce vehicle congestion, improve emergency evacuation and improve pedestrian safety, among other things. And with the Port of New Orleans expecting cargo increases to also increase rail traffic to and from the port, delays on the Old Metairie, or Back Belt route, will become increasingly unacceptable.

But many of those who spoke out at the meeting on Thursday night worried that the ultimate goal of the Gateway project was to relocate the current railway from its position in upper-middle-class Old Metairie to the less affluent neighborhood of Hollygrove.

From the City Council to the Legislature to union leaders representing the city’s cops and firefighters, the charge has come that [Mayor Mitch] Landrieu won’t hear them out, won’t listen to criticism and can’t drop a grudge. … 

What voters will decide next month is whether Landrieu really is too much of an autocrat, or, as the mayor argues, is only making tough decisions about how to spend limited resources, decisions that will inevitably leave someone unhappy.

In small group sessions, residents spoke of their concerns that the rail lines could harm their property values and that the dust could not only harm their own health but the parish’€™s famous orange groves as well.

“And the people in Belle Chasse aren’€™t aware that this will affect them too,”€ Turner said. “These cars will pass through their community too.”€

Louisiana accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. coal exports, mostly because of its location at the intersection of Mississippi River barge routes serving Midwestern states with large coal deposits and Gulf shipping routes serving Europe and Latin America, according to a May report from the National Mining Association.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...