Monday, September 14, 2009

New Orleans RTA ponders three new streetcar lines

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Resuming a push for streetcar expansion interrupted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans’ Regional Transit Authority is advocating additions (or extensions) to its existing operations, at a projected cost of $212 million. Three streetcar lines being proposed all would link to the existing Canal Street line.

RTA says its hopes federal funding of $121 million, or 57% of the cost, will be available to advance the proposal. The agency is seeking much of that share though the federal TIGER program.

Of the roughly $91 million remaining to be funded, about $73.5 million would come from the sale of bonds backed by sales-tax collections allocated to the RTA. RTA also would use $13 million from a reserve account. RTA recently restored its borrowing power, damaged in part by the post-hurricane falloff in ridership, which some credit to Veolia Transportation, the company which assumed daily operations.

Under Veolia, the system has run at lower cost and has seenridership rebound, though slowly, according to Justin Augustine, the RTA'schief executive officer and a vice president at Veolia Transportation. "It shows that [financial markets] believe we've begun to put our fiscal house in order," Augustine said.

The St. Claude route, called the “French Quarter loop,” would run about four miles along North Rampart Street from Canal Street to Press Street and would feature a 1.2-mile spur on Elysian Fields Avenue that would connect with the Riverfront streetcar line at Esplanade Avenue.

The 1.8-mile Convention Center Boulevard line would run uptown from Canal Street via Tchoupitoulas and Poydras streets to Convention Center Boulevard, turning toward the Mississippi River at Henderson Street and connecting with the Riverfront streetcar line behind the Convention Center.

At 1.5 miles in length, the Union Passenger Terminal route would travel along Loyola Avenue between Canal Street and both the Greyhound and Amtrak terminals. Under the RTA's plan, the $45.6 million line is the only one that would be fully financed by the federal government.