French Quarter merchants worry street repairs bring a flood threat

Photo by John Snell
Photo by John Snell

New Orleans-- Cindy Badinger's art gallery in the 900 block of Royal Street has never had a flooding problem.

The shop, which escaped even a drop of water in Hurricane Katrina, nearly flooded during a rainstorm on November 4.

Badinger, the owner of Gallery Nine Forty, is convinced street repairs in the 800 and 900 blocks of Royal have created a flooding hazard.

"In 30 or 40 minutes, the water came up to my door," Badinger said. "I'm preparing to flood. I know I'm going to flood."

Badinger and other merchants complain the contractor built a crown in the street, convinced the new asphalt is higher than before the repairs.

In Badinger's case, a new handicap access ramp runs downhill right into Gallery Nine Forty.

The work is part of a Paths to Progress, a U.S. Department of Transportation administered $90 million roadway improvement program, including $11.3 million in French Quarter projects.

Alexandra Wommack, a spokesperson for program manager HNTB Corporation, insisted the street is the same height, with "two inches of asphalt removed and two inches added."

The company points out the Americans With Disabilities Act sets strict standards for handicapped access ramps in sidewalks.

HNTB plans to create a new curb by carving out a portion of the street near the sidewalk, Wommack said.

Across the street, merchants complain about the timing of sidewalk repairs.

"They've come in here without any regard for the fact that we do our best business before Christmas," said Lauren Duxbury, a manager at Antieau Gallery.

"There's no one here today in the store and there hasn't been since they started (Monday)."

HNTB repaired other French Quarter sidewalks earlier, but Wommack said in as statement the 800 and 900 blocks of Royal "were not included due to safety hazards with shallow electrical conduits."

After coordinating with Entergy and the city, Wommack said repairs can now be done safely.

"We will accommodate the businesses by installing ramps at excavated areas and to minimize inconveniences and maintain access for their customers," the statement said. "We will not restrict access into any business and one side of the sidewalk will remain open."