The Times-Picayune – Bricks-and-mortar work began Tuesday on New Orleans’ newest streetcar line, a 1.5-mile route along Loyola Avenue that will connect the Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street.
Workers from C&M Construction started cutting concrete along Loyola near Julia Street, the first visible progress on a job that saw a ceremonial ground-breaking in June. Traffic has been restricted in the area.
The work is being overseen by Archer Western Contractors of Arlington, Texas, which submitted the lowest of six bids the Regional Transit Authority received. The job is expected to cost $34.5 million, and completion is expected in June, according to RTA spokeswoman Patrice Mercadel Bell.
The Loyola Avenue tracks will run in the street on both sides of the neutral ground. Plans include four covered streetcar stops at Tulane Avenue, Poydras Street, Julia Street and the Union Passenger Terminal.
The new route will use surplus streetcars from the Canal Street and Riverfront lines. After floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina damaged the 24 candy-apple red Canal streetcars and the six Riverfront streetcars, the RTA used $31.5 million in FEMA reimbursements to restore them.
The federal government is paying for the Loyola line in its entirety as part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan. New Orleans was one of three cities that received money for a rail project in the stimulus, along with Dallas and Tucson, Ariz.
The Loyola line is starting to take shape seven years after streetcars returned to Canal Street, following a four-decade absence.
It’s not the only new rail project in the works. The RTA is also moving ahead with plans to bring streetcar service to Faubourg Marigny, Treme and St. Roch via North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue.
In May, the RTA board authorized solicitation for final design bids for the so-called French Quarter loop, which will travel from Canal Street to Press Street along North Rampart and St. Claude.
A 1.2-mile spur on Elysian Fields Avenue that would connect with the Riverfront line at Esplanade Avenue has been put on the back burner while officials look into the prospects of extending the St. Claude line to Poland Avenue in the Bywater.
That addition would call for streetcar tracks to cross the railroad tracks at ground level at the intersection of St. Claude and Press Street. Norfolk Southern Railway, which has final say in the matter, opposes the idea, citing safety concerns.
With more than $90 million in hand to build the project, RTA executives are optimistic they can begin the first phase of the Rampart route late next year or early in 2013.
Plans for a third new streetcar line, along Convention Center Boulevard, have been shelved for now while the St. Claude proposal moves forward.