Streetcar repair project hurting Riverbend businesses, shop owne - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Streetcar repair project hurting Riverbend businesses, shop owners say

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New Orleans, La. -

New Orleans, La. - At Napoleon Avenue these days, streetcars come to a screeching halt.

It's currently the end of the St. Charles line and passengers wanting to go further Uptown must hop onto a bus or find another way.

Some business owners down the line say that is leaving them high and dry.

"The impact has been devastating to the Riverbend area," said Rhonda Conley, Owner of O'Henry's Food & Spirits.

Conley said the streetcar repair project, which began in 2011, is dragging on too long.

The ongoing work has left block after block of tracks idle and Conley said, and as a result, tourists are staying away.

"It's frustrating. I'm down about 30 percent," Conley said. "All the restaurants, all the bars, all the retail establishments in this area are down."

Richard Lee Mathis, co-owner of Symmetry Jewelers, said the drop in customer traffic has been sharp.

"In the last two years, the number of folks from out of town that used to get off the streetcar and wander around the neighborhood and just wander into all of our shops are not coming at all," he said. "We're not seeing those."

On Monday, the RTA issued this statement in response:

"The Regional Transit Authority holds the distinct honor and responsibility of operating, maintaining and preserving the historic St. Charles Avenue Streetcars and their Rail Lines. It is our commitment to the people of New Orleans, especially our riders, to maintain their safety while continuing to provide service to meet their transportation needs. The current improvement project will replace the wooden crossties that have sustained damage over several decades and is necessary for the preservation of the streetcar line. This maintenance project occurs every 25-30 years historically to insure the integrity of the St. Charles Avenue rail system. The agency asks the community's patience as we complete this work that will benefit the community for years to come."

 

Officials said the project's remaining phases are scheduled for completion in late July 2014.

Shop owner Yvonne LaFleur said the timeline keeps shifting in the wrong direction.

"We're just waiting," LaFleur said. "We've been told several dates, but nothing is conclusive now."

Monday night, LaFleur and others brought their concerns to a town hall meeting hosted by District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry. Guidry said she's already arranged one meeting between the public and RTA officials over the situation, and she vows to hold another if necessary.

"With these types of repair projects - whether it's streets or streetcars - there are going to be adverse consequences for the businesses," Guidry said. "It's very painful, you know, and of course I want to speed things up as much as possible."

In the meantime, Mathis and others hope to get the word out – the Riverbend and Carrollton areas are very much open for business.

"We're gonna keep pushing it and making phone calls and doing whatever we can and hopefully get some publicity to let tourists know that they can come up and leave the French Quarter to shop in all the beautiful areas around the city," Mathis said.

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