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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Earhart Boulevard repairs finally under way

Earhart Boulevard repairs finally under way
By Katie Urbaszewski, The Times-Picayune
December 26, 2009, 6:12AM

A long-stalled project to repair a heavily damaged stretch of Earhart Boulevard is finally under construction, thanks to an influx of federal stimulus money, officials said.

The $12.4 million project will completely rebuild one mile of the heavily traveled commuter route from Hamilton to Pine streets, including sewer, water and drainage pipes. Thousands of motorists travel the busy thoroughfare each day to get to and from downtown New Orleans via the Earhart Expressway.

Times-Picayune archiveIn 2004, repairs on Earhart Boulevard meant detours for thousands of motorists. The project was originally part of the state's Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development or TIMED program, which has financed the repair of four other segments of Earhart since 1999.

The state Department of Transportation program set aside $20 million to invest in the road's reconstruction, but after completing the fourth segment in 2006, ran out of money to finish the final stretch, said TIMED spokesman Sam Moore.

To proceed, the state would have had to seek federal funding, Moore said.

"Then this stimulus came along, and that was like manna from heaven for us," said Jeff Roesel of the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission.

Robert Mendoza, director of the city's Department of Public Works, said the initial stage of construction will cause minor lane restrictions in the first two months of 2010.

After that, vehicles will be routed to one side of the neutral ground at a time, creating more traffic, Mendoza said. The project is slated to end about a year from now, but officials say delays are likely.

Work rehabbing Earhart began in 1999, when two stretches from Magnolia to South Galvez streets and South Galvez to South Dupre streets were rebuilt. That was followed by a segment from Fern to State streets in May 2005. Construction on the fourth segment, from State to South Dupre streets, was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina and finally completed in April 2006.

Of the $12.4 million needed for this phase, $8.1 million will be covered by stimulus funds in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Another $2.5 million will come from the Federal Highway Administration, $1.2 million from the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board and $627,000 in leftover TIMED funds, city officials said. The contractor is Command Construction.

In addition to street repair, a U-turn lane will be added to the westbound lane of Earhart past the intersection of South Carrollton Avenue. A right-turn lane will also be added for westbound motorists at South Carrollton. Officials also plan to add sidewalks.

"This is in response to what the community wanted," Roesel said.

Planners took care to accommodate pedestrians as well as vehicles, Mendoza said. Originally, the planning committee wanted to add a left-turn lane to remove the need to make a U-turn at all.

"But you start to think of the intersection and Veterans and Clearview at that point," Mendoza said. "That's clearly a barrier for pedestrians."

Mendoza said this intersection is also a bus transfer location, and, based on neighborhood input, there were plenty of people who cross the street there.

"Our goal was not to cut this neighborhood in half," he said.

Mendoza said an independent traffic consultant inspected the plans and said the traffic will flow smoothly.

Moya Runyan Carroll, vice president of NOLA Box Supply Co. on 8501 Earhart Blvd., attended the Dec. 16 groundbreaking ceremony and said she is ecstatic to see construction finally happening.

"It's been a long time coming," she said.

Carroll said the improvements should make the street safer and might stop her building from shaking when trucks drive by. She said business could be hurt by the construction, but she fully supports it.

"No pain, no gain," she said.

Joey Helm, general manager of Helm Paint and Decorating at 8180 Earhart Blvd., said his company has seen the effects of past street construction, and it does take a toll on business.

"People will find you if they want to find you, but it's kind of inconvenient," he said.

That said, the road work will likely be worth it.

"In the end, it will be a better thing for our community and better for Helm Paint," he said. "But you've got to cringe when you see something like this coming."

Katie Urbaszewski can be reached at or 504.826.3330.

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