When officials with the Regional Planning Commission first announced a $10 million beautification project to a stretch of Tulane Avenue in Mid-City, they described a plan that would “significantly improve visual quality” along the corridor, as well as enhance pedestrian and bicycle mobility and safety.
Five years and nearly $5 million later, officials still tout final plans for a safer, wider street reduced from six lanes to four, thanks to improvements that will extend from South Carrollton to South Claiborne avenues.
The city decided to widen the corridor along Tulane Avenue in the Mid-City and Tulane Gravier neighborhoods in 1957 because a medical services center was rapidly expanding there, according to report prepared for the Regional Planning Commission.
The Interstate-10 system wasn’t build until the 1970s, and at that time Tulane Avenue was the major transportation artery for Charity Hospital, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Medical Center, and Tulane Medical Center. The throughway had been designated a state highway — US Highway 61 in one part, and US 90 in another.
Then, in 2011, the Department of Transportation and Development and the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission collaborated to once again improve Tulane Avenue, through a Streetscape project.
After delays and a year of construction, the first phase of that project is finally slated to be finished by the end of the summer.
According to an email from Bambi Hall, a public information officer with the Louisiana Department of Transportation, the project will provide “safety and traffic operational improvements” to the road. Work will include elimination of the inside lanes in each direction to provide left turn lanes, bike lanes and better handicap and pedestrian access.
A raised median will also be placed in the middle of the road, and there will be added stripping and reflectors.
More information was given in July when the organization gave a project update to the Mid-City Business Association.
Officials touted a five-foot bike lane and 7.5 feet of road set aside for side parking. New bumpout treatments will also enhance sidewalks, Hall confirmed, on either side of Tulane Avenue, and sidewalk has been repaved around those areas.
But some elements will be missing this round of construction, including lush landscaping, with trees and shrubbery lining the side streets and neutral ground. Those were originally drawn into the 2011 design.
Landscaping was always noted as “conceptual” in the Environmental Assessment report, Hall noted, and it is now being considered as “a second phase” to the project.
But neighbors and businesses along Tulane Avenue worry whether state budget cuts will make that part of the project questionable altogether.
The 2011 concept included proposed palm and canopy trees surrounded by bio-retention planters, along with flowers and shrubbery. According to the drawings, signature paving in a circular shape would accentuate a double-helix crosswalk in the center of the neutral ground.
The plans also included overflow drains, decorative bollards and seating areas under luscious green trees.
So far, none of those have been planned, and builders may not plant the trees at all, according to members of LDOT. That’s because initial concepts were revised “with input from regulatory and implementing stakeholders,” Hall said.
Nor will there be trashcans nor bike racks, as they weren’t approved as part of the project’s Environmental Assessment report, she added.
For now, LED lighting that would have made the streets brighter and safer for those on foot or bike has also been put on hold, as funding has “not yet been identified,” Hall said. What will be installed is street lighting between South Claiborne and South Galvez, to replace the lights that were removed as a result of the construction of the hospital.
Members of a Tulane-Canal Neighborhood Association meeting last week expressed disappointment at the project’s development.
“Because I’ve got a business on Tulane I’m not very happy to hear that,” said treasurer Justin Pitard, who also owns the restaurant Avery’s Poboys.
The association’s president, Jacob Rickall, was also disappointed. He vowed to try and figure out a way to get a variance for more trees along the corridor, even if it meant volunteers with the neighborhood organization would be the ones acquiring and planting them.
“We have to figure out how to get trees,” he said.