Talks drag on to secure rights of way for new airport terminal

New airport access road

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Members of the New Orleans Aviation Board are expressing concern over the pace of negotiations for a key piece of property needed to access the new billion-dollar airport terminal. While progress is being made on one portion of the access project, there is still a big gap between Kenner and the state over a key element.

For 20 years Austin Martin has operated a barbershop at Loyola and I-10, an intersection that will soon become the main entry point for a new terminal.

“It is going to be interesting to see what they do. They haven’t told us about tearing this side down,” said Martin.

Now the once-sleepy road is being torn up as the state builds a new, six-lane, ground-level access road for a long-awaited new airport terminal. And there have been growing pains.

“It bothers you. Around 12 o’clock the ground start shaking,” said Kenner resident Chyna Overton.

On Tuesday the New Orleans City Council Transportation Committee approved a measure to spend an additional $100,000 for design work on a portion of the access road project.

“This is to add funds for design on additional traffic to come through on the added lanes to what the Transportation Department and Kenner are doing,” said Aviation Board attorney Michelle Allen-Hart.

But there’s a major roadblock. Kenner and the state have not been able to negotiate a deal to relocate the Vicari firehouse, which sits right in the middle of the widening project.

“We have a $2 million gap which jeopardizes our fire rating. If we don’t have a fire station in place, my fire rating changes, and our residents pay for that,” said Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn.

Aviation Board members worry that the new airport, set to open in May of 2019, will have poor access. Right now, the negotiations center on the north side of Veterans Boulevard, including the firehouse. But the board says the property needed for an access road on the south side has been secured and work there is well underway.

While some complain about noise and inconvenience, others say it’s the cost of progress.

“As long as it’s positive and expands the city, I like the idea,” said Kenner resident Tyronne McKinley.

Eventually, the state hopes to build flyover ramps to connect the interstate with the new terminal.

“You never know. Down the line they might expand. We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Martin.

While the road to the future remains a work in progress, both the Aviation Board and the City of Kenner are confident.

"A lot of these things should should have been done by now, but we're peacemakers, and we're going to sit down and get this done," said Zahn.

Zahn has meetings planned next week with the governor and state transportation to try and get negotiations moving. Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson says he’s asking for more detail on Kenner’s counter-proposal before that meeting, so that it will be - in his words - more meaningful.

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