Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

The Obameter

Improve transportation in New Orleans

"Will help the New Orleans area develop regional transit partnerships so that public transit can be integrated across parish lines, providing seamless transportation options, including a possible light rail line to connect New Orleans and Baton Rouge through the petrochemical corridor in between."


Federal money fueled streetcars and buses

In the 2008 election, Barack Obama pledged to expand public transit across New Orleans and Baton Rouge to help the cities continue their recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

We reached out to public transit advocate Rachel Heiligman, executive director of Ride New Orleans, who cited a $45 million federal grant in 2010 for a streetcar extension project. And while the streetcar extension represents the biggest federal investment in the past four years, there have been others.

Heiligman pointed us to a $320,000 grant for the Jefferson Transit Authority in the New Orleans metropolitan area for electronic technology that would give passengers instant updates on arrival and departure times of buses.

The Obama administration dedicated $127 million in 17 public transit projects in New Orleans and more than $31 million in 14 projects in Baton Rouge, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

The money paid for everything from new buses to passenger shelters and fare collection equipment.

As we noted in our last update, Louisiana had considered pursuing federal stimulus funds for a light rail project connecting New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but Gov. Bobby Jindal decided against it.

As a candidate, Obama vowed to dedicate federal money to developing public transit in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. In the form of transportation grants for buses and streetcars, he did just that. We rate this a Promise Kept.


Email interview with Rachel Heiligman, executive director of Ride New Orleans, Dec. 17, 2012

The Advocate, Jefferson Transit to upgrade system, Oct. 26, 2012

Reuters, In New Orleans, a streetcar revival, Oct. 25, 2012

The Times-Picayune, Gov. Bobby Jindal, after high-profile criticism, says no to federal money for high-speed rail system, Aug. 22, 2009

Transportation is improving

In July, the first phase of new twin spans of Interstate 10, which was wrecked by Katrina, opened ahead of schedule between Slidell, La., and New Orleans.

An editorial in the Times-Picayune called the opening significant not just for its utility, but as a symbolic sign of progress.
"The bridge opening represents far more than a trip across Lake Pontchartrain: It's a milestone in the metro area's recovery from Hurricane Katrina," the editorial states.
The $803 million federally funded project, the costliest bridge project in Louisiana's history, is scheduled to be completed in 2011.
According to the White House, all projects prompted by Katrina except for the I-10 bridge replacement in New Orleans have been completed. 
In addition, the Federal Transit Administration awarded the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority $10 million to assist with operating expenses and purchase 21 buses, all of which are now in service.  In addition, over $10 million from the economic stimulus package, combined with enhancements disallowed under the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program, are being used to construct bike paths along the streets of New Orleans.
According to the White House, the Federal Transit Authority has, to date, waived over $40 million in local share and allowed $46 million in operating assistance that would have otherwise remained only eligible as capital assistance. 
Statistics from the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority show that average daily ridership between May 2008 and May 2009 rose by 10 percent. Still, as of May, ridership remained at only 43 percent of pre-Katrina levels. 
As for light rail — which wasn't promised but only raised as a possibility — the administration of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal decided not to seek $300 million in stimulus high-speed rail money for a New Orleans-to-Baton Rouge rail link. The state's transportation chief concluded the system would incur an annual operating loss of $18 million per year.
As the ridership statistics show, progress is being made, but a lot more work needs to be done. We rate this one In the Works.


Times-Picayune,  Editorial: "Bridge to Recovery," July 13, 2009

Brookings Institution, "The New Orleans Index Anniversary Edition: Four Years after Katrina," by Amy Liu, Deputy Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, and Allison Plyer, Deputy Director, Greater New Orleans Nonprofit Knowledge Works, August 2009

Times-Picayune, "Gov. Bobby Jindal, after high-profile criticism, says no to federal money for high-speed rail system," by Bill Barrow,  Aug. 22, 2009