The Corps giveth and the Corps taketh away: The large structures blocking Jefferson Avenue near Magazine Street are in the process of being moved in time for Mardi Gras parades to make their usual turns around that corner, but soon afterward a four-block stretch of Prytania will close for about a year, officials said Wednesday.
Two large cement silos were installed on Jefferson between Constance and Laurel so that contractors could test a “jet grouting” method of building a foundation for a major new drainage canal that will run under the neutral ground, effectively closing Jefferson between Magazine and the river for months. That work is now complete, and workers are now in the process of removing the obstructions from Constance to the river, said Ron Spooner of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans.
Some of the equipment will be moved nearer to St. Charles Avenue for use later in the project, and some of it will be fenced off and moved closer to the tennis courts, officials said at an open house Monday night at the Latter Branch Library on St. Charles Avenue.
“The equipment will be there and we’ll fence it in, but it’ll be shifted to the side,” said John Fogarty, resident engineer for Southeast Louisiana Orleans flood-protection project.
Corps officials have already met with the New Orleans Police Department to ensure that Jefferson and Magazine is clear and safe for parades like the krewes of Muses and Mid-City to make their turns, and for spectators to be able to watch them, they said.
“We’re going to be totally out of the way for Mardi Gras,” said Lori Wingate of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The closing of Prytania
In March, however, after the parades are over, contractors will begin closing a four-block stretch of Prytania Street from Jefferson to Nashville Avenue that will remain inaccessible to drivers for a year.
The corner of Prytania and Arabella is already closed for utility work, and traffic is restricted from Joseph to Nashville. Beginning in mid-March, a total road closure will go into effect from Nashville to Joseph for utility work and box-canal construction (see map below). Toward the end of May, that closure will continue from Joseph to Jefferson, and the entire Prytania project is not expected to be complete and reopened until mid-2015, officials said.
The back streets
Residents who attended Monday’s open house said they were more concerned about the accelerated deterioration of back streets around the project as drivers seek detours around the construction.
Kit Fritchie, who lives at “ground zero” of the project at Chestnut and Jefferson, said she is concerned about the damage being done to the back streets, and the fact that no money is designated to rebuild them.
“The inconvenience you can live with, but to know the streets are never going to be fixed…” Fritchie said.
Roger Brown, an Uptown resident who commutes through the Jefferson construction zone every day, said the Corps should focus on keeping main routes accessible as much as possible.
“It’s really falling apart,” Brown said. “But who takes responsibility? The city let these streets go down the tubes for years.”
The two phases of the Jefferson Avenue box-canal installation — 9,300 linear feet from South Claiborne to Dryades and from Dryades to Constance and the Prytania extension — are expected to cost $102 million and be complete in 2017. Together with similar canals on South Claiborne, Napoleon and Louisiana avenues, they are expected to improve drainage for 40,000 structures in the Uptown area, the Corps says.