Construction on the massive new drainage canal under Napoleon Avenue will soon begin moving toward the river, and sections of the neutral ground will likely be inaccessible to parade-goers during Mardi Gras next year, New Orleans officials said Tuesday night.The Southeast Louisiana (SELA) Urban Flood Control Program is now under construction on South Claiborne, Jefferson and Napoleon Avenue, and will start later this year on Louisiana Avenue. The entire Napoleon Avenue canal is being built by Boh Brothers, and officials said construction will soon begin moving “like a train” down the avenue, crossing St. Charles.
Construction should be finishing up on some of the sections of Napoleon closest to Claiborne in the coming weeks, officials said — work on a sewer line at Clara in particular took longer than expected. Work on the section that crosses St. Charles will only take place during the summer months, when streetcar traffic is the lightest.
By next year, some parts of the section popular for parade-goers between Magazine and St. Charles will be under active construction, and the current plan is for contractors to simply fence those sections off, while the parades follow their regular routes, said Sewerage & Water Board Engineer Ron Spooner.
“The parades will still roll down Napoleon,” Spooner said at a public meeting Tuesday evening about the project. “You’ll just have limited access to the neutral ground.”
Napoleon Avenue has already been reduced to one lane between Carondelet and Prytania as utility work begins, and as the streets of Uptown become ever more difficult to navigate, the patience of some residents is wearing thin, based on the complaints they voiced Monday. Several residents in the crowd of more than 100 people asked why the project was even necessary on that side of St. Charles, which is not normally known for flooding.
The SELA project actually dates back to the early 1990s, however, and the studies that led to it did find regular records of flooding — either street flooding that makes transportation impassable, or actual damage to homes in the form of FEMA flood claims, said Lori Wingate, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Late 2010 saw a string of rainstorms that flooded areas on the river side of St. Charles, and the section around Jefferson Avenue is particularly prone to repeated flood damage.
“I know that’s what people say, but there was a history of flooding on this side of St. Charles,” Wingate said.
The higher ground at St. Charles Avenue does act as a sort of ridge, however, which is why the project only needs to go to Constance, Wingate said. Rainwater in the lower areas between St. Charles and the river will collect there naturally and then enter the new drainage system, she said.
Residents also wanted to know why so many projects were beginning at once, and officials replied that they are trying to meet federal deadlines on the use of the money allocated for the project.
“There is a limited time that Congress says the funds will be available,” said John Fogerty, resident engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “The federal government says ‘here’s the money,’ and if you don’t use it, they’re going to take it back.”
Other complaints focused on street lighting and damage to the streets. Officials said they are already installing temporary lighting on Napoleon to keep the avenue lit at night, and that they plan to begin repaving Jefferson Avenue in a few weeks in acknowledgement of the damage already caused by heavier traffic.
The final phase of Napoleon Avenue is scheduled to be complete in November 2016, though officials said that weather delays could push it into early 2017.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.