Cities and development: New Orleans moves forward with $3.5B in infrastructure spending

NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans is preparing to spend $3 billion to add a new network of high-speed rail lines that would connect the city’s busiest ports with the Atlantic coast, according to a new report from the American Planning Association.

The new line would serve a region that is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, and will be the first such new rail line in the U.S. Since it was built in the 1990s, New Orleans has built a network of rail lines connecting its downtown with New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans, which has a population of nearly 12 million.

But with Katrina’s devastating impact, many of those lines were closed.

“We have to be mindful that in a city with such a dense, dense and diverse population, it’s a challenge to make sure that the infrastructure is there for people to use,” said Peter Smith, director of the city of San Antonio’s Economic Development and Urban Policy Center.

“I think the infrastructure was a little lacking, especially on the east side of the river and in the south end, but that’s part of the plan.”

The report, which includes a $2 billion plan to build the first high-frequency rail system in the country, was released on Wednesday by the New Orleans Economic Development Corp., a joint effort of the mayor’s office and the city and state of Louisiana.

The plan includes $2.8 billion for infrastructure, including $1.8 million to add an elevated train track between New Orleans and New York.

That would be built at the eastern terminus of the line, near the airport and a new interchange, a spokesman for the mayor, Chris Clements, said.

New Orleans also is building an express bus system, including an $8.5 billion light rail line that will link the city to the airport.

The report noted that many of the new lines would be funded with federal and state funding, and the federal government will reimburse the city $4 million for the cost of the tracks.

The city also is spending $200 million to expand the citywide transit network, and a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health is being used to build an expanded bike and pedestrian network.

The project will add 2,000 new cars and 1,000 streetcars, and it will also improve access to major roads, according the report.

The agency expects the new line to bring $9 billion in total economic benefits to the city, including up to 1.7 million more jobs and up to $50 billion in economic activity.

The New Orleans Development Corp. also is planning to add 1,500 jobs and 1.5 million square feet of retail space in the area around the terminal.

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