The city of New Orleans is in the process of launching a $2.4 billion project to repair the most heavily damaged streets in neighborhoods all over New Orleans over the next eight years, but Carrollton residents asked pointedly Monday night whether plans so far over the horizon have any chance of becoming a reality.
The massive infrastructure project — on display at the website roadwork.nola.gov — is primarily based on money from the final FEMA settlement, bolstered by city bond money, funding from the National Disaster Resiliency Competition and other sources, said Sarah McLaughlin Porteous, the city’s spokeswoman for the project. The work is broken into 200 smaller contracts of $5 to $10 million apiece so that small businesses can compete for them, and will include road repairs of all scales in every part of the city, she said.
“It is the most comprehensive infrastructure program this city has seen in over a generation,” McLaughlin Porteous said.
The projects were chosen based on a citywide pavement assessment that took place in 2015, and the first 30 projects are already in design phases. Officials had hoped construction would begin by July, but because of various delays, they now expect them all to start by January 2018, McLaughlin Porteous said.
The projects have been grouped into five different categories, based on how much work is needed. The least-intensive group is termed “non-paving incidentals,” and refers to repairing damaged curbs, gutters, sidewalks and driveways. “Incidental road repairs” will add asphalt patching; “Patch/mill/overlay” refers to a full repaving of the top of the street from one curb to the other; “Patch concrete” involves replacing sections of damaged concrete roadbed, and “Full reconstruction” is rebuilding the entire street from the bottom up. In almost all projects, city officials will also inspect the underground utilities and replace it as necessary, McLaughlin Porteous said.
The city is actually starting with the easiest projects first, because they are the quickest to design, and full reconstructions will occur during the latter half of the eight-year program, sometime in 2021 or after, McLaughlin Porteous said. The city is also repairing only single streets in each neighborhood at a time, so that too many detours are not necessary and residents can still access their homes.
“This is a massive, massive program,” McLaughlin Porteous said. “We’ve got to sequence it in such a way that we’re not going to shut down your neighborhood or any other neighborhood while we’re doing it.”
The two dozen or so members of the Central Carrollton Association gathered at the Central St. Matthew United Church of Christ for Monday’s meeting emphasized that some streets in the neighborhood are becoming almost impassable. Parts of Lowerline have sunk so deeply next to driveways that residents can no longer get their cars in and out, and the sides of Sycamore and Adams have collapsed so completely that it is essentially a one-lane street, too narrow for two cars to pass side-by-side.
“There are plenty of areas in our neighborhood where that occurs, and it is not safe driving,” said neighborhood organizer H.V. Nagendra.
When one resident asked why the highest-priority projects aren’t being tackled sooner, McLaughlin Porteous replied that they take longer to design, so putting them first would delay the whole program.
“If we waited for that, we would not be doing work we could get more quickly,” McLaughlin Porteous said.
If the street survey was done in 2015, but construction is not actually beginning until 2018, then the roads can reasonably be expected to have three years’ more damage, Nagendra pointed out. Neighbors asked if they will have the opportunity to point out omissions in the city’s plan, and McLaughlin Porteous urged them to review the projects at roadwork.nola.gov and send in any comments they think are necessary.
Once the project have been designed, each individual project will also receive a public meeting — the city has already begun setting dates for the list of the first 30 projects in the list, McLaughlin Porteous said. Resident Ray Nichols said he had been impressed with the city’s outreach on the project so far.
“I think that kind of engagement is what we need a lot more of,” Nichols said. “I think what y’all are doing is really refreshing.”
Others, however, asked whether they could be confident that the later projects in the plan will actually take place. If the earlier projects may possibly be revised to include more work based on public input, than it stands to reason that the pool of money for the later, larger projects may dry up before the latter half, they said.
“If the condition demands greater funding that what has been allocated, it will never get fixed,” Nagendra said.
The city is already looking for more funding sources for roadwork to make sure the program continues even past the $2.4 billion already allocated, McLaughlin Porteous replied. That answer did little to assauge the worries of whose whose streets are scheduled to start construction in 2021 or later.
“It’s on paper. It doesn’t help us. We want to see something being done on the street,” said Adams Street resident Gladys B. Brown, who said that rainwater pools so deeply along the sides of the street that her neighbors can’t get out of their homes. “How long have we been talking about that and nothing has been done?”
Even with all the plans and schedules online, some neighbors said they could not parse any logic to what they were seeing. For example, Pine Street is scheduled for no work at all; Lowerline (a block over) is scheduled for incidental repairs; and Adams (the next block) will get a full reconstruction — while all had similar damage from the flooding after Hurricane Katrina and subsequent degradation.
“There’s obviously a huge gap between what we have and what the need is,” McLaughlin Porteous acknowledged. “We’ve got a $9 billion problem. We’re not going to be able to address everything, but we certainly have a major down payment.”