Fox 8 Defenders: City admits mistakes amid languishing roadwork woes
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Weeks, months and sometimes years. That’s how long some New Orleanians say their streets have been torn up and under construction. In many cases, they say they go weeks or months without seeing any workers.
From Uptown to the Carrollton neighborhood, from Hollygrove to the Seventh Ward, from New Orleans East to Algiers, no part of the city appears spared when it comes to lagging roadwork and upset neighbors. Now, city leaders tell Fox 8 they have a plan to tackle the problem head-on.
Patrick Washington says he’s lived under nearly impassable conditions on St. Anthony Street in the Seventh Ward for nine months.
“It’s kind of gross,” Washington said. “We essentially live on … a dirt road, you know?”
His street has discarded construction equipment and the occasional broken water line.
”We had to make a makeshift deterrent for the water, so we just threw some trash on it, basically to aim it toward Claiborne so it’s not flooding our property,” Washington said.
Along Burdette Street in the Hollygrove neighborhood, there is more running water, flowing into a trench several feet deep.
“This has actually been going on for quite some time,” Maryanna Clayton said. ”We didn’t see any crews around to stop this, or to even secure the site, to make sure people don’t fall in.”
Over on Sycamore Street, Carrollton neighbors see some construction activity, but its been going on for months. Gretchen Becnel says she’s worried about the structural integrity of her home because of the constant vibrations.
”It’s enough to make you leave,” Becnel said.
Across New Orleans, frustrations reach a boiling point over unfinished road construction projects, funded by FEMA.
”I see these types of scenes all over the city, where no one is there (working),” Clayton said.
John Gharbi said, “It’s ridiculous, like a lot of things with this city government here.”
Washington said, “It appears there’s no accountability for the work that’s done anymore -- the intermittency in the work that is being done -- so it appeared they’re trying to do it in phases.”
With so many unhappy neighbors and countless complaints to the Fox 8 Defenders, we took the concerns to the city. We asked Deputy CAO of Infrastructure Joseph Threat why some neighbors haven’t seen any work done on their streets for months, after projects first started.
“Well, it’s multiple reasons,” Threat said. “Sometimes, it’s the coordination with Sewerage and Water Board -- maybe it’s a sewer line that needs repair and they need to being their field crews in. We only have so many crews to do so much work. And it was unsuspected, the capacity we need to do this amount of work right now.”
Sarah McLaughlin Porteous, the acting Director of Public Works, admits the way the city doled out the roadwork contracts to get as many projects started as possible was not efficient. The repairs are part of a massive $2 billion, FEMA-funded infrastructure project. In some cases, crews are doing complete overhauls of roads and the utilities underneath.
“We recognize that this way of putting our contracts out has brought a lot of challenges and a lot of hardships for residents, so we are doing things differently,” Porteous said. “We are learning from our mistakes.”
Threat said the new strategy involves saying, “I’m gonna take a timeout, finish these neighborhoods before we move forward. I’m personally invested in this right now.”
The city says contractors might have taken on too much work too soon. There are more than 2,800 city blocks under construction right now, each with individual challenges.
“We’ve got surprises of gas pipes, utility pipes, utilities running through that are not on design,” Threat said. “So, when we designed the projects two years ago and we start construction, these are the unforeseen elements that we run into and we have to build conflicts around them.”
And finding enough workers is an issue.
“The workforce is a problem now,” Threat said. “McDonald’s can’t get enough folks to work.”
Despite the headaches residents are dealing with, Threat says this work needs to be done, and the time is now.
”The infrastructure is crumbling, right under our feet,” he said. “People that had long-term construction going -- a year or two, or sometimes close to three -- are frustrated right now. But when that neighborhood is complete, the frustrated people will be the people in the neighborhoods who didn’t get the work done.”
Threat said that even with another billion dollars on the table, that’s still not enough money to fix every New Orleans neighborhood that needs it. That’s why he’s lobbying for even more. But, with lessons learned from this project, he hopes to make future roadwork initiatives much more seamless.
And for residents and motorists who have seen sporadic work on their streets, Threat promises there is an end in sight.
”I’m confident we’re going to close these projects, and I’m confident that we’re going to move forward,” he said.
For an update on road work in your neighborhood, visit roadwork.nola.gov.
If you have a consumer complaint you’d like us to look into, call the Fox 8 Defenders, staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women at 1-877-670-6397. Or click here to fill out our online complaint form, which is the easiest way to reach us.
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