It's easy to understand why people get exasperated with the road work Uptown. Seeing the streetcar tracks torn up again just months after the completion of extensive rail tie repairs seems like an absurdity.
The road gets repaved, and then it’s dug up again to fix a broken pipe underneath. The streetcar tracks get replaced, then torn out again for a new drainage canal. Power lines are being replaced over a road about to be repaved, instead of buried underneath it.But "comprehensive oversight" is far more easily said than done considering the varying state, local, and federal agencies working on separate projects each with different funding and timetables.
“There seems to be no comprehensive oversight,” said a man in the audience at New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s town hall on Uptown road construction. “There seems to be no brain center in the apparatus,” he said.
Is he right? Will the roads in New Orleans ever work?
At the present, the answer may be “no,” or at least, “not yet,” Cantrell told the audience.
“Right now there is no overall strategy that I can even tell you about,” Cantrell said of repairs to the broken roads. “Every time I think I see the worst, I see another.”
In part, they said, the problem stems from overlapping projects, some of which are controlled by deadlines for using federal money.The idea that there could.. or even should.. have been some overarching entity directing all of that is far-fetched. But people are going to complain anyway because, well, that's what they should do.
“We’re really inundated all at one time with a lot of work going on,” Cantrell said. “I don’t believe we’ll see this much in our lifetime as a city.”
The work sprawling across Uptown New Orleans comes from several types of projects.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing work as part of the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, a regional effort aimed at improving drainage to handle heavy rainfall.
At the same time, the Department of Public Works has been using recovery funds provided after Hurricane Katrina to fix up roads, and the Sewerage & Water Board is conducting repairs on its dilapidated systems.
Next up is a $30 million project by Entergy New Orleans to install new transmission lines in preparation for the planned shutdown of its Michoud plant, which provides about three-quarters of the city’s power. Power would then be provided by the Ninemile power plant on the West Bank, which needs to be connected to the city by the new transmission lines. That will involve installing new conductors on the utility’s transmission lines and then pulling the lines themselves through them.
There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for what's happening but it's not obvious if you're not following carefully. If you're not especially geeked out over infrastructure the way some of us are, you might not know any of this work is coming until they've already dug up your street. And that's when you'll want to go ask questions. So these public townhalls are necessary even if they start to feel repetitive.
Maybe next time LaToya can bring a keg or something.