NEW ORLEANS – Transit officials are gearing up for construction to begin on the new North Rampart/St. Claude streetcar line.
But after construction delays and funding issues with another recently completed streetcar line, residents have concerns.
North Rampart Street is a bustling corridor that runs through some of the city's most historic neighborhoods. Transit officials plan to extend the new Loyola Streetcar line down North Rampart and through St. Claude Avenue to Elysian Fields.
In a public informational meeting about the anticipated new line at the Treme Center Thursday night, Regional Transit Authority CEO Justin Augustine touted the success of the Loyola Avenue, completed just before the 2013 Super Bowl.
“The Loyola Streetcar line, we put in $60 million,” Augustine. “There's been $2.5 billion of return investments that are springing up along that corridor from private sector interests.”
But a recent Eyewitness News Investigation shows the project encountered numerous delays and went $15 million over budget, cutting into the funding for the N. Rampart streetcar project. Officials say that's because of crumbling underground infrastructure and unexpected finds beneath the surface.
Those issues could happen on North Rampart Street and St. Claude as well.
“This project scares me. You know why it scares me? Not because I'm afraid to get into the build process. You know why it scares me? You just don't really, really know until you start getting into that process,” said Augustine.
The RTA says the North Rampart corridor is the oldest in the city, and that means they could dig up surprises that could lead to costly delays, especially in the neutral ground.
The new line will run on either side of the neutral ground, sharing a lane of vehicular traffic. RTA officials say they'll have to cut into the neutral ground by about 40 percent to have enough room for the street car.
“We've taken extra measures, extra steps, we've learned from Loyola,” said Augustine.
This time the RTA is better prepared for surprises, said Augustine, and has done more to try to figure out what is beneath the surface.
But officials can't truly be sure until they break ground.
When asked if the RTA has a funding cushion if the project goes over budget, Augustine replied, “We feel comfortable that as we estimate the value, we can cover the cost of that.”
The project is being funded by bond money.
It will go out for bid in a few months. The RTA plans to begin construction by the end of this year.
Officials to eventually extend the streetcar line to Poland Avenue and later to the parish line.