By Clark Thompson
If you live in Uptown New Orleans, you’ve probably had the misfortune of driving on Octavia street in the past few months. The US Army Corp’s SELA project effectively closes Jefferson Avenue, and ends up sending lots of traffic onto Octavia, and the wear and tear of additional use is destroying the street. And the street is destroying cars, but that’s already been covered.
At last night’s meeting about the Napoleon Avenue leg of the project, the US Army Corps of Engineers offered no plan to solve this oversight, and this must be addressed, but first let me ask you a question. You, my neighbor, have to do sewage line repairs in front of your home, and in the process, you dig up the sidewalk and the street, such that you leave the sidewalk impassable for months. Because of your work, pedestrians choose to walk across my yard, trampling my lawn and garden, and frequently thowing trash along the side of your pit. When your excavation project is complete, I’d expect you to pitch in to help repair the damage to my yard and garden; I’ll pick up the trash gratis. Is it reasonable for me to expect you to pitch in to help with fixing what you broke?
“No” is the answer from the US Army Corps. They recognize that their work will double and triple the wear and tear on the minor streets around the project, but they will contribute no funds at all to the maintenance during the project or the repair after the project of any of those streets.
This is simply unacceptable.
As we have already witnessed on the Jefferson Avenue project, the Corps’ approved project plan deflects an enormous burden of traffic onto Leontine, Octavia and Valmont. Those streets are wearing quickly and will be blighted by the time the contractors demobilize in 2017. General Pershing, Milan, Jena and Cadiz will be subjected to the same overuse as a result of the SELA project. It is insult enough that they must inconvenience us for three years. The Corps and their contractor must maintain and repair the streets destroyed due to overuse caused by their SELA projects.
This was obviously a question the Army Corps had prepared for, albeit with an unacceptable answer. The next question however found the Corps completely flatfooted, and demonstrate a lack of understanding of “conditions on the ground”.
There are five active schools in a four block span of the SELA Napoleon Phase III Project. These school administrators have invested years of effort and thousands of dollars in planning and managing their respective school carpools. The moving work area of the SELA project will disrupt these thousand children’s carpools for at least two and a half years. Project planners have thus far failed to factor these facts into their “traffic control” plan. In fact, “traffic control” means that barricades are placed to prevent driving in the left lane. That’s all. And it is entirely insufficient.
The Army Corps and their contractor Boh Brothers must take the lead and initiate a traffic study and plan, and they must do so urgently. There is no reason to wait until traffic on Magazine is backed up to Soniat to start working on the solution.
It is very likely that a safe resolution of the problem will require the hiring of more crossing guards. That too is not the burden of the New Orleans taxpayer, it is the responsibility of Boh Brothers and USACE. Plans and budgets for projects like this have a margin for contingencies of this sort, and that is where the funding must come from.
It is unrealistic to expect that this complicated and expensive engineering project should be completed without hiccups. Nevertheless it is the responsibility of the project managers to make every reasonable effort to mitigate the impact of the project. The responsible thing to do here is to conduct a traffic study in collaboration with all of the impacted schools. They will have to carefully choreograph their carpools with the work of the contractors.
It is unfortunate to uncover these omissons in the USACE project plan at this late date. There is time though for the US Army Corps and in particular their contractor Boh Brothers to act as good neighbors and leaders and correct these errors.
Repair the roads that the SELA project breaks and make a plan to get kids safely to school.
Clark Thompson is a resident of Uptown New Orleans. He publishes on social media sites under the handle “boathead.”