After 18 months of work, the Loyola Avenue streetcars are ready to roll.
Federal, state and local officials will gather for grand opening ceremonies at the Union Passenger Terminal today. They'll join New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for an inaugural ride at noon.
The $45 million streetcar project was funded through a competitive grant, which funds innovative projects with significant economic and environmental benefits for the surrounding community and region.
The funds were used to construct 1.6 miles of track and specialized turn-out tracks at the UPT and at Canal Street and five state-of-the-art, solar-powered transit shelters that include video kiosks. The project also includes relocation and replacement of underground utilities, road paving and striping and landscaping.
And, it appears to have been money well spent.
"What it's projected to do is to revive that entire corridor," says RTA spokeswoman Patrice Mercadel. "And we've already seen what we project to be a 2.7 billion dollar return on the federal investment to put that streetcar line in that corridor."
She says that's private investment money "to rebuild that area of downtown that is really the corridor into the heart of the CBD...with the renovation of the Hyatt and the remodeling of the Holiday Inn...the Saratoga Apartments coming on line, along with a new Rouse's grocery store as well as many other developments that are taking place in the corridor."
The public can begin to ride the rails this afternoon at one o'clock.
"This opening that we're doing today is a major, major accomplishment for the city of New Orleans," says Mercadel. "This is the first new streetcar line to open in the city for 25 years now."
And, she says they expect heavy ridership right off the bat. "It just so happens that we're opening right before Super Bowl, and our streetcar line is conveniently located in walking distance from the Superdome."
"It's great that we're hosting the Super Bowl, but it was really built to help the residents of New Orleans and to help build an intermodal system for New Orleans as a whole," Mercadel says. "And, it's an opportunity for folks who may never have had that access before, to really enjoy all that downtown offers."
"We expect that our locals will use it to access all of the wonderful job and entertainment venues in the community as we celebrate this fabulous 2013 season of Super Bowl and Mardi Gras."