Thursday, May 05, 2016

Dig a deeper hole and then you'll feel better

"That's alright. You guys in New York can't get a hole in the ground fixed and it's five years later. So let's be fair." - Ray Nagin

So a few weeks ago, we thought it might be cute if we framed this post about the Trade Mart redevelopment lawsuit with an interesting B story about an adjacent patch of real estate.   
NEW ORLEANS - Closures near the foot of Canal Street are unearthing a problem many residents didn’t even know existed.

It’s a 50-year-old problem in the making.

Underneath the street, a tunnel which stretches from Canal to Poydras Street is starting to buckle and has caused a shut down in the area.

The tunnel was built by the city in 1966 as part of a planned Riverfront Expressway that would have run along the edge of the French Quarter.
First of all, people knew the tunnel existed. It's one of many bits of local trivia anyone who lives here at most five years or so inevitably picks up. Please stop condescending to us, WWLTV.  But that's not the important part of that story. This is. 
“It was probably a temporary design made out of steel and they probably didn't paint it," says Levees.org engineer H.J. Bosworth. "Those unpainted structures under the City of New Orleans don't stand a chance."

Bosworth said the concern now is if the damage underneath will cause the street above ground to collapse. He said there are several layers of concrete that prevent major damage.

"The collapse wouldn't be catastrophic and things dropping like 20 feet or anything like that,” Bosworth explained. “Something like that collapses little by little."
Yeah, well, famous last words and all... 
A sinkhole that opened up at the foot of Canal Street Friday (April 29) will take up to six months and $5 million to repair, city officials said.

The collapse, which caved in a 30-foot-wide section of one of New Orleans busiest streets, happened just a few feet away from the spot where Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his infrastructure team had been standing hours earlier in a 50 year-old tunnel that runs underneath the road.

The team was on site to inspect one of the tunnel's walls, which had begun to buckle earlier this month, allowing water to spill in. A few hours after they left, the wall collapsed, taking the road along with it.

"This is nothing short of incredible," Landrieu said. "Unfortunately, it's not a surprise," given the city's creaking infrastructure and unstable soil, he said. "Still, I've never seen anything like it."
Mitch is right. New Orleans, like most American cities is desperately in need of massive infrastructure investment. Remember way back when President Obama was cowed into compromising on a much smaller stimulus package than we really needed?  The conservative argument at the time was that there just aren't enough "shovel-ready" projects to justify throwing money at.  This was never true, of course. The past week alone in New Orleans provides plenty of examples.

On Thursday afternoon, a water main burst on Constantinople Street opening up a massive hole that swallowed most of the road. It's the sort of thing liable to happen anywhere in town on any day. S&WB estimates the city loses 40 percent of its water supply to underground leakage.  On Friday morning, we read about a study showing unacceptable levels of lead in local drinking water. Rectifying these chronic problems seems like imminently "shovel-ready" projects already.   The Canal Street sinkhole is really just for fun.

And yes, we do mean that literally.  As is prone to happen with these little events, the sinkholes became the internet distraction of the week. The jokes came fast, furious, and mostly terrible. "Throw in a doubloon and make a wish" Zing! "Maybe we can get it to swallow the Liberty Monument" Heyyooo! "Put the sinkhole up on Airbnb" Natch. "A sinkhole is actually the geometrical manifestation of doing more with less." Huh?

And then there was this.
Local fascination with the city's first-ever Sinkhole de Mayo party on Canal Street spread so fast Tuesday (May 3) organizers were forced to move festivities to nearby Woldenberg Park. Now the news has gone national.

The Daily Beast writer Ben Collins talked to party co-organizer Chrissy Gross to get background on the viral event and understand why thousands of locals "might show up to a random sinkhole in the middle of a New Orleans road to celebrate Mexico beating the French in 1862."
It's going on right now as I type this. Look at 'em go.

Sinkhole de Mayo sounds funny at first. Hey let's make light of this thing that happened. Better that than yet another round of pouty #FixMyStreets harangues. But then skip a few beats and it gets tagged with the "That's so NOLA" bullshit that inevitably gets pasted on to everything that happens anymore. Next thing you know national media outlets are picking it up and it may as well be a NOTMC branded event. That gets it turned into a tourism ad, and suddenly we're stuck with even more of that dreaded "hipster" cred.  No one is allowed to react to anything like a human anymore without seeing that immediately captured and commodified. This is how joy dies.

Plus now it's a meme. Sinkholes are very popular. Everyone is on the lookout for the next big one
NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Another large chunk of roadway opened up in New Orleans today – the third one in less than a week.

Officials with the city’s Sewerage and Water Board said the latest sinkhole happened at 800 Taft Place in Mid-City. They said work to repair the hole will begin tomorrow if weather permits.
Sure, sure, Imma let y'all finish. But let's remind everyone which was the Greatest Sinkhole Of All Time. That one took five years to fix. This thing on Canal Street, they're gonna do in six months.
New Orleans' backbone is about to go under the knife.

An army of engineers, designers and builders will descend on the riverside end of Canal Street in the coming weeks to operate on a herniated reminder of the city's crumbling infrastructure: a 600-square-foot sinkhole that opened up across from Harrah's Casino.

The City Council voted 6-0 to give Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration the emergency go-ahead Thursday (May 5) to hire the Metairie firm Hard Rock Construction for what could be a $5 million, 6-month job to repair the collapsed wall of an underground tunnel, backfill the fresh chasm and resurface Canal's lakebound lane. Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey was absent.

Oh it's an emergency. Well when you put it that way.

"Now get off your asses and let's do something, and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country." -- Ray Nagin (again, of course)


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