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Streetcar Desires 

  Mayor Mitch Landrieu and city and Regional Transit Authority (RTA) officials joined U.S. Department of Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood last week for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Loyola Avenue Streetcar line, scheduled to open June 2012. Funded by a $45 million grant, the line will carry passengers from the Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street via Loyola Avenue. LaHood noted the Loyola corridor already is seeing economic development, including new apartments and businesses, in anticipation of the streetcar's traffic.

  The next project, slated to begin in summer 2012, is the French Quarter loop extension, a 2.48-mile rail expansion of the Riverfront streetcar line via Elysian Fields Avenue to Press Street in Bywater. That line — a $73 million project fully funded by a 2010 sales tax revenue bond — is scheduled to open in fall 2013.

  Not yet scheduled for construction is the anticipated St. Claude Avenue corridor line to connect the French Quarter loop (via a spur on Elysian Fields) to St. Claude and continue to Press Street. Patrice Bell Mercadel, the RTA's director of marketing and communication, says the RTA is conducting environmental assessments along the proposed line and hopes to have the "financial capacity" to send the line beyond Press to Poland Avenue. "We're open to the feasibility," she said.

  The groundbreaking ceremony also introduced a $400,000 award for a streetcar maintenance training program. In March, RTA electrician Keith Wilkes told New Orleans National Public Radio outlet WWNO-FM that he's "the only guy left who knows the electrical portion of the streetcars. I'd like to share it, but right now we don't have an apprenticeship program. ... God forbid anything happen to me, a lot of knowledge is going to go out the door." — Alex Woodward

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