Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stimulus: Crossing Our Fingers

I've tried to stay on top of the New Orleans implications of the big federal stimulus bill being negotiated in Congress. When I last broached the topic, I discussed the competing asks coming from the state and municipal levels.

Under a directive from Governor Bobby Jindal, the Department of Transportation and Development released an approximately $1.4 billion plan that is almost entirely comprised of major highway expansion projects outside of Orleans Parish. DOTD Secretary Ankner is on the record saying that the state is really only expecting to receive something in the ballpark of $400 million from the feds.

That's not very much money at all, and almost none of it would go to New Orleans, you know, the place with the most crippling infrastructure needs in the United States of America.

But as it turns out, New Orleans has come up with it's own ask. I alluded to the competing plan by the Regional Planning Commission, Regional Transit Authority, and the City of New Orleans.

Here are some more details:

Total ask: $6.3 billion
Estimated "shovel ready" spending for 2009: just under $1 billion.

First up is public transportation, where we request a total of half a billion dollars,

This portion of the draft document proposes seven streetcar projects, including:

-extending the Carrolton ave. line to connect to the Canal st. line
-extending the riverfront line to Jackson Avenue, building a new line north along Jackson Ave to St. Charles
-extending the riverfront line to Poland Avenue, building a new line along Poland from the river to St. Claude
-building new line to link union passenger terminal to Canal
-new line from Canal to Elysian Fields along N. Rampart and then from N. Rampart to the river along Elysian Fields
-a new line along convention center boulevard
-a new line connecting Canal all the way to Poland Ave, perhaps extending the proposed line along N. Rampart all the way down St. Claude

Also there is several tens of millions of dollars in spending proposed to build Bus Rapid Transit lines from the CBD to N.O. East and Algiers as well as for shelters, new buses, kiosk technology, etc. etc.

Then there's what is known as 'infrastructure resilience' spending, which actually comprises close to half of the city's total request. This includes an ask of $2.5 billion to supplement efforts to replace our sewer lines and pipes and half a billion to bury electrical and telephone wires.

Another section details our requests for regional rail spending, about $1.2 billion. There's a 450,000,000 request for a light rail line from downtown New Orleans to the airport. The city also proposes high speed rail connections to Baton Rouge, Mobile, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Hattiesburg, and Meridian.

Then there's just over a billion dollars proposed for "pedestrian enhancements" like new sidewalks, curbs, gutters improved drainage systems, street lights, trees, crosswalks, etc.

What else?

$120,000,000 for airport improvements
$240,000,000 for road repaving in Orleans Parish
$65,000,000 for bicycle infrastructure

Of course, all amounts are approximated and project details are heavily annotated.

But after a quick browse, it's a pretty solid package. I'm not sure what's "shovel ready" for 2009 but it's not hard to imagine how helpful these projects would be for our short, medium, and long term regional health.

Just think if all we got funded out of this was half of the proposed streetcar lines and half of the proposed sewer replacements. Even that would be an extremely significant, if not a game-changing investment.

I'd been wondering why it was that the city of New Orleans and the RPC were putting out a plan that would compete with the state plan, why the DOTD plan didn't just include our region's requests.

It turns out that this was by design - as a result of lobbying by the Mayor - to counteract what might happen if states were not given strict guidelines on how to allocate federal money. This was something discussed within the US Conference of Mayors, so I don't mean to insinuate that Nagin just invented the strategy out of thin air.

In fact, it would appear that the USCM thinks that a lot of the infrastructure money in the stimulus bill can and will be funnelled directly to cities and regional planning organizations through existing programs like CDBG.


I have also heard from a couple of different sources that, to a significant extent, the amount of stimulus money allocated for New Orleans depends on the lobbying efforts of folks like Karen Carter Peterson and Desiree Glapion Rogers instead of the Louisiana Congressional Delegation.

My question now is why our Congressional Delegation isn't up to bat for us. Is it just because New Orleans doesn't have political clout within our state delegation? Or is it because Congress in general isn't actually doing much "earmarking" of the package?

I have some theories but I'd like to know what you guys think...


Superdeformed said...

Frustration between Nagin and the state for starters. Also our congressional delegation is pretty weak now anyway.

I think we've be lucky to see more than a 1/4 of that money. and even more surprised if that money goes to any projects. :\

alli said...

Wow, that is an incredible list! I had no idea they had so many plans for streetcar expansion.

The LA congressional delegation is toast for the next couple years. Who is going to go to bat for New Orleans? Steve the Sleaze? Joe "Shining Star" Cao, who couldn't even bring himself to vote for Ledbetter? The only two Democrats are Mary Landrieu, who has fucked over the Senate Dems enough times to not matter so much anymore, and Charlie Melancon, from the Blue Dog caucus. We don't have any seniority, the state didn't vote for Obama, nor did it vote in Carmouche or Cazayoux, and we're pretty invisible to the rest of the country. I'm not surprised in the least that the state will have to lean on heavies like Rogers, and to a certain extent, Lisa Jackson at the EPA.

The Intellectual Redneck said...

We all know the help Acorn gave the Democrats in winning the last election. What was in it for them? Is 4 billion dollars enough?
Democrats attempt to pay off Acorn

Clay said...

A lot of those streetcar projects have been proposed over and over for at least a decade.

The extension of the Carrolton line to Canal is probably impractical, due to the I-10 crossing (Toni Morrison {?} Interchange overpass/underpass). You would have to completely re-engineer the interstate, the onramps/offramps, Carrolton Ave. and an Amtrak bridge. It would cost more to rework that one section than to lay the rest of the track.

The most bang-for-your-buck project would be extending the Canal line in a loop around the Warehouse District/CBD to include the Convention Center. Lots of Conventioneers and downtown workers could use it. It would pay for itself in no time.

jeffrey said...

Prior to the Flood the latest proposed Streetcar project was a new "Desire" line from Canal down Rampart/St. Claude into the Bywater.
The proposal is still available for perusal at your public library. It's the only place you'll ever see such a thing since it ain't getting built.

Also I remember somebody saying that NOLA might benefit in the long run from reelecting its senior Congressman (who has still not been convicted of anything, btw)... but somehow that suggestion went unheeded.

jeffrey said...

Here you go. Instant googling


bayoustjohndavid said...

Before Katrina, people who actually used public transit to get to work hated those cramped little red mini-buses on rails. I love the St. Charles Streetcar, but the line frequently gets backed up. When I've lived in places where I could take the streetcar or another line to work downtown, I almost always took the bus on days that I needed to use public transit. These new little things don't have the comfort or charm of the real streetcars, but they have the same tendency to get off schedule. If we're going to overhaul the entire public transit system, as opposed to a couple of lines, it's important to consider practical matters and the people who actually rely on public transit.

Yeah, I'm probably one of the few New Orleanians who rails against streetcars, but the new things aren't even what I'd call real streetcars. They wouldn't be practical for an entire system even if the still made the old kind, but I'd be able to understand the temptation.

mominem said...

Street cars are environmental don't you know, running as they do on coal, instead of diesel.

I think much of the allocation of funds will be done by the administration, as a result of the current anti-earmarking frenzy. I have to admit I don't understand why the legislature shouldn't be able to legislate how money is spent.

Look at the Lemon scented mess the lack of earmarking has made locally.

Puddinhead said...

Dammit. We Gentillians tried to work an Elysian Fields streetcar line into our "long range master plan" as the only logical River to Lake route, following the historical Pontchartrain Railroad path. One of the more obtuse ideas was that a line tying UNO to the Quarter and Downtown area (much as Tulane and Loyola are tied to the heart of the city) makes the university just a little bit more attractive to students who don't already live in the metro area, and could aid in the shift away from being known as a "commuter school".

But I knew it would be a while, if ever, before Gentilly regained the kind of stroke needed to go beyond infrastructure replacement into infrastructure improvement.

Ricardo said...

Puddinhead, As recently as last summer we (DeSaix Area) were hearing rumors of the expansion of the Carollton line down Wisner and OVER the bayou to the DeSaix Circle (Fairgrounds). Sound like our defacto gov't. at work again.
I agree with BSJD that we need small efficient "busettas" that could travel collector lines to major arteries withn express service. If I cann't have a couple of cocktails before I get to the streetcar line I do not have the patience for it.

We favor making the DeSaix Circle a true roundabout.

jeffrey said...

When I worked in the Quarter, there was a period of time when I relied on the streetcar to commute. I came to refer to it as "slightly less reliable than walking" as often I could indeed walk the two miles in less time than it took to wait on and ride the car.

And then I got a bike.

E said...

RE: Efficiency of the streetcar

The biggest reason the streetcar takes so long isn't the streetcar itself, it's the ridiculous number of stops it makes.

There are pretty simple measures to reduce headway on old and new lines alike - namely reducing the number of stops and putting in special streetcar signals that would help give public transit riders the right of way.

RE: Gentilly, Elyisan Fields

I didn't go into all of the different proposals for bus rapid transit. It seems kind of intuitive that there would be some sort of line running the length of Fields so as to service UNO and Gentilly Blvd.

Puddinhead said...

"It seems kind of intuitive that there would be some sort of line running the length of Fields so as to service UNO and Gentilly Blvd."

That's what the general consensus was during the planning sessions; reinforced when Elysian Fields/Gentilly was named one of the city's 17 (?) "development zones". We did recognize, however, that certain engineering challenges would be raised by the Florida Ave. Canal and the adjacent railroad tracks to be crossed.

And Ricardo--That Desaix route was actually something I'd floated somewhere as an "alternative" should the canal and RR crossing on Elysian Fields prove impractical. Carrollton extended out Wisner to Desaix, Desaix to Gentilly, Gentilly to Elysian Fields, Elysian Fields to UNO. Not the direct tie to the Quarter and downtown, but...

GentillyGirl said...

This is a great plan IF the monies don't get transferred to other projects.

The Elysian Fields run can be done- we just lose a lane over the bridge at Florida. (traffic needs to be slowed down since the car folks think Elysian is an extension of 610 and 10.Crossing the street is murder in this/my area)

And we don't need the little red streetcars outside of the lines they already run on. Get cars similar to those that are used on S.F.'s Muni system. The can be MU'd to increase seating depending on the load needs.

Jeffrey said...

You're right; the city's ask is really solid. The emphasis on streetcars is wonderful, and there is absolutely nothing technically challenging about having the streetcar go under the I-10 overpass at Tulane Avenue. That connection--to actually create a 'belt line' around the city is the most obvious initial step in creating real transit in the city.

As for the Desire line--guess what, it's back. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the RTA has quietly reinitiated the process of using Mary Landrieu's appropriation to fund a Desire line study. The only catch is that rather than using it to look at the Desire line, the RTA is trying to see if it can use the money to build a "Conventioneers" line down Convention Center Blvd, which is bullshit. You all should write the RTA and pay attention to when it's next public meeting is going to be to make sure to advocate for the alignment between Lee Circle and Press Street. It's gonna happen.

E is right, too--the problem with transit in this city is that we have people who don't care about transit running transit. Having stops every two blocks is one of the first no-nos of transit planning. Having buses that can't keep a schedule is a no-no. These are things that can be fixed. All of the new buses are ITS equipped, and all of the areas below I-610/Florida Ave have 5000 to 12,000 people per square mile, even after Katrina--right at the sweet-spot for supporting light rail or BRT investments.

The new vision of this city is a return to its transit (streetcar)-oriented past.


Clay said...

One other thing to point out: a very high percentage of New Orleans' power comes from nuclear and natural gas, not coal.

Nuclear powered streetcars...