So I noticed something unusual last week in New Orleans–traffic. Traffic caused by a crazy amount of roadwork projects, which, at least in my experience down in NOLA, is a pretty uncommon sight. If any of you have been to this city, it is known for its busted up sidewalks with rambling tree roots winding underneath them and is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a manicured place to live. This is the kind of city that inspires poetry with its lush, reckless landscapes and buildings that are slowly, slowly being pulled back down to the earth from which they came.
But…upkeep is necessary and New Orleans is not known for its lucrative and abundant employment. Those of us who noticed this work last week speculated that there must be a whole lot of Federal funding being pumped into the city, and after a quick internet search, it appears we were right. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (i.e., the Federal Economic Stimulus Bill), is providing $430 million in highway funding and $66 million in transit funding for the state of Louisiana. In February, the city also won a $45 million federal stimulus grant to extend streetcar service with three new streetcar lines.
Roadways also received a whole lot of funding to cover rehabilitation, resurfacing, overlay, or reconstruction (without capacity expansion, which makes sense because the population is still at only about 75% of where it was pre-Katrina) of seriously deteriorating arterial streets. More reliable equipment is also being installed, along with a new local commitment to improved maintenance and better control traffic flow across parishes. Much of that infrastructure was destroyed by flooding caused by the catastrophic failure of the hurricane protection system and is now being repaired.
Hopefully the jobs being created for these improvements are actually going to locals, unlike the majority of contracts after Katrina that went to contractors in Texas and other bordering states—this did not do any favors to the utterly decimated economy in New Orleans and surrounding parishes. But I have to admit, from a selfish perspective, I was a little confused by the new construction and organization that was now seeming to creep into that city. Historically, New Orleaneans have fought change with a double barrel shotgun–this is evident in its unbelievably confusing street layouts and numbering–but that has always been part of its charm and why it is such a dreamy city for preservationists. Things just really haven’t changed much down there. The architecture has been preserved, either by tradition or neglect, and instead of bulldozing everything that could be built taller, buildings are just dusted off and repainted with broken shutters hanging off of them, gas lamps giving them the same eerie glow they had at the turn of the last century. And that seems to be how locals prefer it.
We need more jobs down there, for sure. But let’s make sure they go to locals–not only because they need the work, but because they understand what it is to be in New Orleans. And let’s not forget the incredibly history of this place, which—and I know I’ve harped on this in the past, but it’s a big deal—boasts more historic districts than any other city in the U.S., despite the fact that I can drive across that entire town it in about 15 minutes. Or at least I could before all the roads were torn up.