While the past year has taught us that the future is highly unpredictable, in New Orleans, roadwork will always endure.
As roadwork has been classified an “essential activity,” infrastructure improvements have continued through the pandemic, though with modifications aimed at worker safety.
On Thursday (Jan. 14) evening, the Office of Neighborhood Engagement hosted an online meeting to notify St. Thomas and Irish Channel residents about street milling and reconstruction work coming to their area. The $7 million project is officially called East Riverside/Garden District/Irish Channel/St.Thomas Group A.
With about $2.2 billion in funding from FEMA, and additional funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Roadwork NOLA oversees over 200 Department of Public Works and Sewerage & Water Board projects. In their presentations to the public, the Office of Neighborhood Engagement has taken to calling the collective effort the “most comprehensive infrastructure program our region has seen in a generation.”
The meeting was well attended, with about half of the attendees calling in via phone. Talva Burnette, from the mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement started the meeting off with a greeting and an appeal for the attendees to continue using COVID-19 precautions, especially wearing masks.
“The city and myself hope that you are in good spirits … and that you are continuing to be safe. To wear your mask. And now, with our numbers rising we want to wear them… anytime we are outside,” Burnette said.
At the construction sites, hand-washing stations will be installed and workers will use daily temperature checks as a screening method, as well as social distancing. The online meeting is of course another method of dealing with the spread of the virus, by preventing in-person gatherings.
The project will also be monitored by an archaeologist and a historic preservation specialist. Michael Godzinski, the city’s staff archaeologist, noted that the area’s residents, including the early indigenous peoples and colonizers, have used the proximity to the high ground of the riverbank to their advantage for many, many years.
“I’m going to be looking for any kind of archaeology, any kind of artifacts … and, God forbid, any human remains,” said Godzinski, noting that this is unlikely, though possible, when workers dig under the street for waterline repair. Archaeological finds could pause construction, though Godzinski said they probably would not to halt work for long.
This particular project will see some sites of waterline repair, but most blocks slated for work will see less dramatic measures as the scope only calls for patch and repair. The project also means that sidewalks and curbs will be fixed so that they are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act with wheelchair-accessible curbs and tactile modifications for people who are blind or low vision.
Some residents were concerned that particular problem areas might not be fixed. One resident, Courtney Egan, mentioned a recurring sinkhole at Constance and Second streets.
Nakeila Polk, community outreach manager at Roadwork NOLA, assured her that even when the project maps are not fine-grained enough to encompass such issues, the reconstruction workers will not leave such problems behind before moving on to the next site. “We’ll make sure that it’s addressed,” Polk said.
Another resident, Mike Grote, pointed to “serious drainage issues” at Chippewa and Eighth streets. Polk says this will also be covered under the project’s scope.
Though a detailed work schedule is not available at this moment, residents can expect advance warning when there will be street closings and impacts to postal service. There will also be 24-hour warning for waterline test closures and 48 hour advance warnings before water shutoffs, the officials said.
Work hours will be 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, though work hours may be extended to the weekend if necessary, and possibly with longer hours during the summer to take advantage of the longer daylight hours. Storms and other variable conditions may also impact construction work times, and the overall timeline for the project.
The meeting closed with a reminder from Burnette to keep practicing COVID protocol, and to participate in the vaccination effort.
“I want to wish everyone a good night but before I do I want everyone to remember, we’re still at phase one. We gotta keep our masks on so that we can move on to stage two and beyond. I want to encourage you to think about participating as a vaccine volunteer to assist… in distribution of the vaccine. And get vaccinated!”
For more information, visit roadworknola.com. You may also contact roadwork nola at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (504) 658-ROAD (7623).
Reporter Jesse Baum can be reached at email@example.com.