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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Rampart/St. Claude streetcar line is met with resistance at community meeting

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2015 at 9:45 PM

click to enlarge Martin Pospisil answers a question from a community member. - JEANIE RIESS
  • JEANIE RIESS
  • Martin Pospisil answers a question from a community member.

The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and its international conglomerate Transdev, which oversees it, met a tough crowd tonight at Joseph A. Craig Charter School, where engineers and planners presented construction plans for the Rampart/St. Claude streetcar line that will stretch from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue.

Construction on the line will start Jan. 12 and will be completed within 18 months, according to Martin Pospisil, a manager with Transdev, though many in the crowd of about 100 residents and business owners expressed skepticism of 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. Watermeier asked if there was a more realistic projection.

Pospisil explained, "Every project is different, and every project springs different issues as you start the project. So the schedule may change as different issues may come up. Certain things can happen and you have to make adjustments to your schedule."

A half dozen other residents and business owners joined Watermeier in protesting 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 and J Oyster Company, located on North Rampart Street, said he was not contacted either.

Trene McCormick, an employee of the outreach company hired by Transdev to engage the community, told Gambit that she has reached out to most stakeholders, but not all of them, including those who were simply not home when she stopped by, though she plans to go back. 

Most of the community members in attendance did not support the streetcar line. "Where exactly is it going?" Mari Kornhauser, who has lived in the French Quarter for more than 20 years, asked Gambit. "I never wanted this project," she said. "It's socially inequitable transportation since it's only going to Elysian FIelds. 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."

Kornhauser suggested that the $42 million being spent on the project might be better allocated for buying more buses. Justin Augustine, the RTA's general manager, however, says that 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."

"Our intent is to take this thing to the Lower Ninth Ward," Augustine said. "That's in the program that the RTA has approved. Press Street is just an issue we have to get through. We're not saying we're not going to cross Press Street [where the train crosses St. Claude Avenue]. That's the railroad saying they don't want us to. We'll fight that with everything we have. Projects are done in phases."

Among the other issues were increased flooding, since the project will remove the neutral ground; vibrations in the neighborhood from the rumble of the tracks; and construction traffic. Pospisil assured stakeholders that filming and other events that clog the narrow French Quarter streets would be put on hold during the various phases of construction. 

"It's basically a shuttle between Elysian Fields and Canal Street," said Carol Gniady, the executive director of French Quarter Citizens, a local community group. "And all of the infrastructure problems that we're concerned about. The possibility of flooding because of the extra cement, the lack of neutral ground space for pedestrians to walk across...The vibrations are also a concern. It will be loud. The impact of the vibrations. We see buildings in the French Quarter that are deteriorating. The one that we lost on Royal Street, a lot of people are saying that the vibrations from the street really didn't help."

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