WASHINGTON D.C., DC — President Joe Biden’s plan for the future of the country involves reconnecting neighborhoods, including one in New Orleans. The outline of the American Jobs Plan specifically mentions the Claiborne Expressway and how the highway divided the community.
“Too often, past transportation investments divided communities – like the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans or I-81 in Syracuse – or it left out the people most in need of affordable transportation options,” the outline reads. “The President’s plan includes $20 billion for a new program that will reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments and ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access.”
Raynard Sanders, the executive director of the Claiborne Avenue History Project, remembers what Claiborne in Treme looked like before the expressway towered above. Not only was it a commercial hub for black-owned businesses but it was also a cultural hub.
“Everything came off of Claiborne,” said Sanders. “It was like the main artery for the African-American community.”
In the 1960s, it was decided the expressway would run over Treme dividing and destroying what used to be.
“There were no discussions about it or anything like and they just showed up and started tearing up oak trees in 1966,” said Sanders.
The plan is light on specifics so we asked Robert Collins, professor of urban studies at Dillard University, about the best way to reconnect the neighborhood.
“From an urban planning standpoint the important thing would be to take down the bridge to take down the elevated highway,” said Collins.
The traffic over the Claiborne corridor is already heavy so Collins says you’d need a plan to divert cars, possibly using I-610 and other auxiliary streets but it would take a lot of time and money.
“That’s always the sticking point because it’s important for people to keep in mind when you are talking about federal investment you aren’t just talking about millions of dollars. You are talking tens of millions of dollars,” said Collins.
Since the 1970s, ideas to remove certain off ramps or even taking down the expressway have all failed. Sanders is holding onto hope. He said the neighborhood depends on it.
“We would just hope that, from the Claiborne History Project’s perspective, that something significant is done to address all of the damage that has been done to this community.”
It is unclear how and when the White House intends to move the package through Congress.