The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and the international conglomerate Transdev, which oversees RTA, met a tough crowd last week when they presented plans for the Rampart/St. Claude streetcar line that will run between Canal Street and Elysian Fields Avenue.
Construction on the line was scheduled to start this week and be completed within 18 months, according to Martin Pospisil, a manager with Transdev. Many in the crowd of about 100 residents and business owners expressed skepticism about that timeline — including French Quarter resident and former mayoral candidate Leo Watermeier, who said he was "leery" of the projection based on how long it took Transdev to complete its Loyola Avenue track.
Other residents and business owners scoffed at the RTA's claim that it had reached out to local stakeholders for community input. "I live, work and own three buildings on North Rampart, and I haven't been contacted," Watermeier said. Sal Sunseri of P&J Oyster Company, which is located on North Rampart Street, said he was not contacted either.
"Where exactly is it going?" Mari Kornhauser, who has lived in the French Quarter for more than 20 years, asked Gambit. "With so many people getting pushed out of these neighborhoods, and with most of the people who work in the service industry ... it should go all the way to St. Bernard [Parish]." Kornhauser suggested that it might be better to use the $42 million being spent on the project for buying more buses. RTA General Manager Justin Augustine said the bonds being used to fund the project are streetcar-project specific.
"The bonds that we acquired were used for streetcar-related projects because that was the concept at the time," Augustine told Gambit. "It's a decision you make. At the time we had just spent a lot of federal money to buy 143 buses."
As for the fact that plans don't call for bringing the streetcar across the Press Street railroad crossing into Bywater, Augustine said, "We're not saying we're not going to cross Press Street. That's the railroad saying they don't want us to. We'll fight that with everything we have. Projects are done in phases."
Pospisil assured neighbors that events that clog the narrow French Quarter streets would be put on hold during the various phases of construction. But that didn't pacify people like Carol Gniady, executive director of French Quarter Citizens, a local community group, who said, "It's basically a shuttle between Elysian Fields [Avenue] and Canal Street."