State submits plan for revitalizing Claiborne Expressway, potentially knocking down ramps in Treme

The project would cost around $95 million, and would involve retrofitting the aging expressway, cleaning up and enhancing the area underneath and potentially removing up to four ramps in Treme.
Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 10:46 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After a decade of talks, the state has finally submitted its plan to address the aging Claiborne Expressway, which involves $95 million dollars of work retrofitting the structure itself, revitalizing the area underneath and potentially demolishing up to four ramps in Treme.

The plan, which was submitted by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) last week, is a request for federal funding to the tune of $47 million, with matching funding coming from the state itself.

Dr. Shawn Wilson, Secretary of DOTD, said the department is at the table and invested in the project, adding that the Claiborne Expressway is past its useful life and is in need of serious retrofitting.

“You’re starting to see the rapid rate of the deterioration of that system,” Wilson said. “It needs to be much safer. It needs to be much better. If you travel there now, you will see a place riddled with potholes, you will see folks sitting on boxes and benches, and it actually begins to attract the type of behavior and activity that we don’t want and need in that community.”

When the Claiborne Expressway was built in the 1960s, it tore through the historic Black neighborhood of Treme, decimating businesses in the name of providing a faster commute time for drivers heading to the city’s Central Business District. A proposed highway along the river was defeated by French Quarter residents.

Alvin Jackson, 79, a longtime resident of Treme and the founder of the Treme Petit Jazz Museum, said he remembers leaving for the Air Force in 1961, and returning home to see how much his neighborhood had changed.

“We didn’t realize the kind of adverse effect it would have on our community and our economy. It devastated this neighborhood,” Jackson said. “This thoroughfare just like wiped a lot of things out. Hardware stores, restaurants, grocery stores, banks, you name it. We suffered.”

“As a kid I remember a nice community, where we could go and shop amongst ourselves, without worrying about some nonsense segregation on Canal Street. This just tore us apart.”

Jackson said he is in favor of a project to tear down the ramps at Orleans Avenue and Esplanade Avenue, which could become a reality under the state’s proposal.

Wilson said, if everything goes according to plan, the project will begin with retrofitting a four-block section of the highway, underneath which will be a “cultural district” catered toward Treme residents.

“While we’re going through this maintenance effort, we will do the due diligence in terms of making the final decisions on which two or four off ramps actually get removed and how do you repurpose the space where those offramps exist,” Wilson said. “It’s creating an opportunity for us to leverage that space that we have for better utility under that asset, whether it’s a recreational component or an economic development component.”

Some community members have called for the removal of the expressway entirely, an idea which Wilson said DOTD has been open to, but which has not thus far proved feasible.

The Claiborne Expressway carries upwards of 130,000 cars per day, including traffic to the Port of New Orleans, Superdome, Smoothie King Center and the city’s health district.

“When you introduce that into that neighborhood, you see and feel the impacts of what that dividing piece of infrastructure has really created,” Wilson said, adding that environmental studies alone could add years onto a timeline for a proposed removal project.

He said he feels the time is right to act now.

“This is a very thoughtful, consensus building approach,” Wilson said. “It’s one of these situations where if everybody is not completely happy and completely satisfied, we’re probably striking a real practical core in the public space.”

If the ramps were to come down under the new proposal, drivers would have to exit at Canal Street when heading west or Claiborne Avenue when heading east.

Safety improvements on the ground would include elevated crosswalks, improved lighting and upgraded signalization, creating a more walkable corridor for pedestrians.

Wilson said he and Congressman Troy Carter, whose district includes the Treme, are cognizant of concerns of gentrification that come with the project.

“We will create some ownership and support what the city is doing to provide mixed income housing, to really provide transit solutions, to provide a way for folks to establish themselves in that community and not be forced out,” Wilson said.

Jackson said he’s tentatively hoping the project will become a reality, and the ramps will come down.

“Once you reconnect our community, I think we can prosper again, I believe that,” he said.

“It will send a strong signal that somebody’s serious, and we should become very, very serious about redeveloping Claiborne Avenue as a proper thoroughfare, as a proper business [corridor], and folks are waiting for that. I know I am.”

Now that the proposal has been submitted, Wilson said DOTD expects to hear back in the first quarter of 2023. After that, he said it will be a two to three-year project that he is confident will begin construction next year.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.