NEW ORLEANS - One month before the Super Bowl, trial runs are underway on the new Loyola Avenue Streetcar line.
Eyewitness News got an exclusive first ride on the new line.
Thursday, crews turned on the line’s electricity for the first time. They spent the day making sure everything runs smoothly before the streetcar opens to the public Jan. 28.
“This is really just the fine tuning and finessing piece of the streetcar project,” said Patrice Bell Mercadel, spokeswoman for the Regional Transit Authority, or RTA. “We are so close now, and progress is never easy, but it's just that, it's progress.”
That progress is also impacting another streetcar line. Thursday through Sunday, the RTA is replacing the Canal Streetcar line with buses.
It temporarily shut down the Canal Street streetcar out of an abundance of caution while crews connect it with the newly electrified Loyola streetcar line.
Many of the replacement buses were packed Thursday night, causing headaches for commuters and adding to Canal Street traffic.
“I couldn’t even get on that [bus] just now because it was too crowded, so it's a big old inconvenience from the streetcar,” said Kendall Williams, a streetcar rider.
But some believe the temporary inconvenience is worth it.
“My opinion is that you have to endure for progress,” said Jonas Davis, a regular public transit rider.
The $45 million, federally funded Loyola Streetcar project was originally scheduled for completion in June. It was later pushed back to December after crews made some unexpected underground discoveries.
“We found everything from an old ice house that contained ammonia from it being a working ice house, to the remains of a cypress tree that we had to actually excavate from under the ground,” said Mercadel.
Now, RTA officials say the new streetcar line is on target to be finished less than a week before Super Bowl Sunday. Some New Orleanians say they'll believe it when they see it.
“30 days? I don't think so. I don't think so,” said Williams. “Honestly I don’t really think they can do it that fast.”
Most crews have been working double shifts for the last three months, said Mercadel. They’ll continue working as many hours as necessary, seven days a week, to open the streetcar to the public by Jan. 28.
“We've made a commitment to the city and we intend to keep it,” said Mercadel. “So pray for good weather and the sun shining and we'll be up and running in late January.”
“I hope they don't rush it because if they do, you know, when you rush things you mess things up, so I just hope they you know, do their job and get the job done so the city can get back to normal,” said Williams.
“A lot's at stake, first of all our reputation as a first class super bowl hosting city, and then, our reputation for being able to get things done,” said Michael Branch, an RTA rider.
Branch believes the Loyola streetcar project will be done before the Super Bowl because crews are working so quickly.
“You walk past any construction site, it'll be a pile of dirty and a hole one day and the next morning, progress is made, it'll be paved over smoothly, like a sidewalk,” said Branch.
“I have faith in my city, I think it will be done in time,” said Jordan Webb, another RTA rider.
RTA officials are confident that, long after the Super Bowl, the new system will serve as an economic engine for the entire area.
“While it's been a little challenging for the folks who have to travel in those areas, I think it's a challenge that we'll all be happy we survived so that we can say we have one of the best new assets in the world,” said Mercadel.
The RTA said the Loyola streetcar is part of a bigger vision for streetcar expansion throughout the city. It plans to host a series of public meetings about the Rampart streetcar in mid-January.
The RTA has also been fielding a lot of calls from people curious if the neutral ground on which the St. Charles Streetcar runs will be available during Carnival season for parades, since a maintenance project currently has some of the neutral grounds shut down.
Mercadel said the St. Charles streetcar will be available between Jan. 20 and Feb. 13 for parades.