Construction headaches, delays leave frustrated Fairgrounds residents without sidewalks

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Street repairs in one New Orleans neighborhood have left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of patient neighbors: joy that construction on the streets themselves are nearly complete, but frustration that they’ve been left without sidewalks for weeks.

When it rains, Mark “Mojo” Joseph, a local musician, has a water feature outside his home.

“I got a little mini Mississippi right here,” Joseph said, pointing at a makeshift plank he’s had to erect over the area where sidewalk once lay outside his home. “Man, it’s New Orleans, you know?”

The contractor working on the Bayou St. John, Fairgrounds, Seventh Ward Group B project, a 23 million dollar undertaking, has gone through delay after delay, with the community being told in June 2021 the project was originally slated for completion in spring 2022.

It’s past spring.

“I know they’re trying, I know there’s weather, but nonetheless we’re standing out here on this burning, balmy day, where are they? There’s no one around here with all this work to be done,” Joseph said. “We’ve been bearing with them and working with them, because it’s definitely a larger effort than we’ve seen in the past.”

And he’s not the only neighbor in the Fairgrounds area with an impeded entrance. Chunks of sidewalk are missing all along Crete Street, where he lives.

“It’s always a prize when you dig into a 300-year-old city,” said Joe Threat, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Infrastructure for the city. “We run into wooden pipes, railroad ties, streetcar tires, run into granite blocks, so it’s complex projects.”

Recently, the city changed the way it handles working with contractors on these kinds of projects, moving to task order type contracting. Basically, contractors will have to start and finish work on a small number of streets in a larger project, rather than being able to start work on lots of streets at once and leave them sitting for long periods of time.

“The city’s never taken on a project of this size, ever,” Threat said. “We’re experiencing, we’re learning on the move, and we’re going to stay out here in the neighborhoods until we close them up and spend this money.”

The money Threat is referring to the more than $2 billion in federal funding through FEMA that the city must spend by next October 2023. The money is tied to the Katrina disaster declaration.

Threat said when the administration took office, only about one percent of the money had been spent. So far, they have spent about a billion dollars.

“The important part is that we put notice to proceed for construction before that period of performance for the Katrina disaster ends in October 2023,” he added.

There are around 50 ongoing street repair projects citywide. Threat said the city has filed an extension to use the FEMA dollars but is waiting to hear back.

The Department of Public Works said the Crete Street subcontractor’s schedule was delayed due to weather, but work on that section of the neighborhood is scheduled for Tuesday at the latest.

Until then, Joseph has to keep walking the plank to get in his home.

“I love New Orleans, but this kind of stuff breaks my heart,” he said.

You can view ongoing roadwork projects and their statuses here.

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