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Streetcars Heading Downriver

Cheryl Gerber Photographs

New Orleanians may still be getting used to the idea of a new streetcar line along Loyola Avenue. But the wheels are already turning on the next expansion of the streetcar system, the North Rampart/St. Claude Avenue streetcar line, which will carry passengers from the CBD along the edge of the French Quarter and the Tremé, and parts of the Faubourg Marigny and 7th Ward.

Officials with the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) have been making the rounds of community meetings as plans for the new service progress. At a recent meeting of the Newcity Neighborhood Partnership, for instance, RTA planning director Stefan Marks explains that the route was part of a long-term effort to restore more streetcar lines in a city once famous for them.    

“This has been on the RTA’s table for years,” says Marks. “It’s about trying to build out the network, and the board is considering how to go beyond that now.”

The latest plan will extend for about 1.4 miles from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue with six station stops for a total cost of about $75 million.

Plans for this streetcar service were once more ambitious. The RTA had earlier proposed a line running farther down St. Claude Avenue to Press Street, where freight train lines controlled by Norfolk Southern Railway impose a logistical barrier. But by 2011 the RTA scaled back, citing a lack of funding, to the current terminus at Elysian Fields Avenue.

Even with this short extension, however, complexities abound – from strategies to reduce streetcar noise near the soon-to-reopen Saenger Theatre to the management of underground utilities during construction. Engineering plans are still in development. Also, at this writing a critical issue of track placement – whether in lanes of traffic, in the neutral ground or in dedicated street level lanes – were still generating lots of discussion at community meetings. Still, RTA officials project that construction will begin in January, with completion slated for late 2015.

The RTA is expected to soon release a master plan, a citywide blueprint for restoring bus service still severely curtailed since Hurricane Katrina as well as future streetcar expansions. Marks says public input is an important part of keeping these plans relevant for residents.

“The RTA board will be looking at how the overall network should work,” he says. “We’re going to continue to get people’s feedback on what we should do, and what type of services we should have.”

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