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Uptown street construction 

Robert Morris of Uptown Messenger looks at recent road projects and construction woes

click to enlarge Traffic on the heavily traveled Napoleon Avenue Uptown has been reduced to one lane while crews construct a new drainage canal under the street.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Traffic on the heavily traveled Napoleon Avenue Uptown has been reduced to one lane while crews construct a new drainage canal under the street.

Construction is set to begin in a few weeks on a new project to repave Freret Street and try to correct the faulty installation of wheelchair-accessible "bump-out" corners at the intersections.

  That project will join a series of others — a similar repaving of Broadway Street, ongoing construction of a new drainage canal under Napoleon Avenue, the commencement of the same project on Jefferson Avenue, the start of another canal project on Louisiana Avenue and yearlong repairs to the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line — that place most of the major thoroughfares through the interior of Uptown New Orleans under some sort of roadwork.

  Two projects will begin on Freret Street in August and run simultaneously, according to city spokesman C. Hayne Rainey. First, the contractor that previously installed new bump-outs along the corridor must return to repair six corners on Valmont, Robert and Cadiz streets to make them accessible to people with disabilities. Another contractor will then repair damaged sidewalks and street tiles in the area during the final phase of Freret streetscape renovations.

  The city is coordinating that project with the upcoming repaving of Freret Street under the federal Paths to Progress program. The $3.3 million project is set to start in August and will include a separate stretch of Nashville Avenue and Fontainebleau Drive as well. Like the Freret streetscape project, the repaving is expected to be finished in the fall.

  The previous round of the streetscape program was plagued with problems including delays and an awkward overlap with the heavily attended Freret Street Festival. Owners of newly opened businesses complained about how long their entrances were blocked by construction. After Origami restaurant's opening day, for example, orange construction barriers surrounded the restaurant for so long that The New Freret Business and Property Owners Association tried unsuccessfully to have the city pay for advertising for Origami as compensation for lost business.

  Memories of that still-unfinished project make some people in the neighborhood apprehensive about the newest round of construction on the street.

  "I would almost forgo it, based on the pain we've just endured with the bump-out project," said Kellie Grengs, a member of the association. "I do not look forward to it at all. Thinking about it keeps me up at night."

  Andrew Amacker, president of the Freret Neighbors United group, said the neighborhood needs repaving to repair damaged streets, and residents will find routes to get around the roadwork. Freret's surge in popularity as a destination should help sustain businesses in the corridor, he said — as long as the work doesn't drag on too long.

  "A lot of our businesses are established enough that they can still attract (customers), even through circumstances like this," Amacker said. "Am I thrilled about it? No, because it hurts the businesses. But it's also something we were expecting a year ago."

  At that time, alternate routes might have been easier to find. Most of the lanes and intersections were still free-flowing. Now, Broadway and Leonidas streets are being repaved, and streetcar line maintenance from Jefferson Avenue upriver to Carrollton Avenue and on to South Claiborne Avenue blocks numerous intersections along St. Charles Avenue and will continue through the end of the year. Next up, the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project will install a third drainage canal under Louisiana Avenue, with work to begin after the bid is awarded in January.

The increasing number of simultaneous projects is drawing ire from residents whose attendance is growing at public meetings about the projects. More than 150 people turned out for a presentation earlier this year regarding the Jefferson Avenue project, and Col. Ed Fleming of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was asked why everything was scheduled at once. He said if the three drainage projects on Jefferson, Napoleon and Louisiana avenues were lined up one at a time, construction would last nine years or more.

  "I hope the temporary inconvenience will be displaced very quickly by the long-term benefits of this project," Fleming said at the meeting.

  New Orleans District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said she understands residents' frustrations.

  "Many of these projects have taken some time to get to this point," Cantrell said last week. "Some of this work should have been completed prior to now. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and our residents are going to be negatively impacted temporarily."

  The drainage projects in particular are worth it, Cantrell said. Before the initial drainage-canal segment on Napoleon Avenue was built in the early 2000s, Broadmoor flooded repeatedly from rainfall, she said. With the canal in place, however, rainwater from Hurricane Katrina drained away and her house and neighborhood were dry — until the levees failed, she said. But Broadmoor bore more pain from the project than other neighborhoods should have to, Cantrell said. Vibrations from the project damaged homes so severely that the Broadmoor Improvement Association filed a class-action lawsuit before Katrina, and the Corps now uses new pressure-based equipment to insert pilings with much less vibration.

  As part of the compensation for that damage, Broadmoor received a stately walking path down the center of the Napoleon Avenue neutral ground, Cantrell said. Now that her council district encompasses the entire area, she and the city Department of Public Works are investigating opportunities to extend that walking path all the way to Magazine Street after the drainage canal is installed. This time, she said, they will leverage federal interest in landscaping as a path to stormwater management.

  As construction engulfs another main drag through Uptown, Cantrell said she believes that eventually the work and aggravation will be worth it.

  "We have to stay focused on the end goal, which is improved infrastructure," Cantrell said. "We're just pushing for it to be done right, and to be done on time."

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