Any major changes to the Interstate 10 overpass are at least four to six years away and dependent on major studies that the city cannot currently afford to pay for – despite the potential benefits that removing the structure could bring, officials said.
The destruction of the I-10 expressway and the restoration of Claiborne Avenue as put forth by the Claiborne Corridor Improvement Coalition would revitalize an area that has suffered socially, economically, and physically from the introduction of the expressway, originally built in the 1960’s, proponents of the plan said at a town hall meeting Tuesday of about 50 people at St Peter Claver Catholic School. If the current vision is adopted, Claiborne Avenue would be restored to its earlier incarnation as a classic New Orleans tree-lined boulevard and a social and economic hub of the Treme neighborhood.
With enough momentum, architect Clifton James argued, the positive impacts could stretch as far west as Louis Armstrong International Airport.
“Each community through which I-10 passes has riches that aren’t being visited and appreciated because of it,” James said, citing examples of local cemeteries, architectural features, and museums. Other cities such as New York and San Francisco have successfully undertaken similar efforts to revitalize neighborhoods through dismantling freeways, he said, and with an estimated $50 million in maintenance costs due for I-10 in the next few years, it may prove more economically and socially viable to consider eliminating it altogether.
Before any such efforts could be undertaken — which, as coalition member James Kelly noted, could take between four and six years — a comprehensive feasibility study for transportation, lights, drainage, and other infrastructure must be completed. Having already secured preliminary support from the Congress for the New Urbanism, the organization has applied for funding from private and federal sources to secure the next stage of the process.
As extensive as the transformations would be, however, local residents expressed their desires that such a study cover all potential impacts — not just those limited to the streets underneath the present highway.
“We have to be careful that what we do in one neighborhood doesn’t negatively impact another,” Barb Johnson of the Central Carrollton Neighborhood Association said in response to the presentation. “We need to understand what the transportation needs are across the city.”
Councilperson Susan Guidry of District A echoed that sentiment, saying that what is needed is an “in-depth traffic study.” Such a study, and the ensuing program of works, would have to be financed by private, state, or federal sources, she added, as the city was not currently in a position to entertain any funding requests. “It seems like a funny thought to apply to the city, with its $80 million deficit, for any financing.” But, Guidry added, the future of the expressway, like all of the neighborhoods it touches, is at an “auspicious moment.”
Other plans presented envisioned the revitalization of a derelict railway stretching from Lakeview to the French Quarter, creating a three-mile-long corridor of parks and green space for public use. The plan, which has been endorsed by both the mayor’s office and the City Council, is still in the design stage, said Bart Everson, but with much of the property already in public hands he hopes it will move into implementation by the new year. Another plan, presented by Joseph Butler of ArtSpace, would catalyze local neighborhoods through affordable residential and work spaces for artists. Rehabilitating abandoned properties and offering the use of those spaces at reduced costs offers a number of benefits, Butler said, including greater social cohesion, community engagement, and economic development.
All together, despite the challenges that remain to their implementation, James noted that the three plans “share a great deal of synergy,” and that he hopes that the city is ready for the scale of these ideas. Councilperson Kristin Gisleson Palmer concurred: “These three projects have the potential for incredible transformations, from the built environment to green spaces to correcting a mistake made years ago.” she said.
“The end result will be better than anything you see on a slide.”