Agencies getting Uptown work sites ready for parades

Napoleon Avenue has been a mess for more than a year. Jefferson Avenue looks no better. And crews have been tearing up the old streetcar track ties on the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground.

But even though Carnival parades are set to come rolling through these neighborhoods starting in just 11 days, officials insist there is no reason to panic — though there is some reason to think that paradegoers hoping to catch Rex, King of Carnival, this year on Napoleon will have a more crowded experience than usual.

With the Uptown parades set to begin on Feb. 21, officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Regional Transit Authority and other agencies say they are preparing to button up the various construction projects that have made traffic such a headache in Uptown neighborhoods recently and make way for this year’s revelers.

The RTA will start first, wrapping up work on the St. Charles tracks between Napoleon and Louisiana avenues by Thursday, cleaning up the neutral ground for parade watchers and resuming streetcar service along the route through the end of Mardi Gras.

City Councilwomen Jackie Clarkson and LaToya Cantrell even put out a statement last week thanking the RTA and the Department of Public Works for the “huge undertaking” already underway, “covering streetcar tracks with soil, rewiring and repairing streetlights, repairing potholes and installing ‘No Parking’ signs along the lake side of St. Charles.”

The Army Corps and the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board will have to make way also, though they’ve got until the final weekend of the Carnival season to get part of the parade route ready.

Rex and the truck parades that follow it on Fat Tuesday — Elks Orleanians and Crescent City — will roll past the $55 million Phase 2 portion, from South Claiborne Avenue to Carondelet Street, of a construction project along Napoleon Avenue that’s supposed to alleviate drainage problems during heavy rains.

Before that, other krewes will roll past Phase 3 of the Napoleon work — a $38 million project, mostly on the river side of St. Charles, that was recently awarded to Boh Bros. Construction Co. — before hanging a right on St. Charles and heading downtown.

All of this drainage work is part of a plan to prevent the type of flooding that happened in May 1995, when southeast Louisiana was slammed by a massive rainstorm that dropped 10 to 20 inches of water in the space of six hours, flooding homes and even killing a handful of residents.

The idea is to install giant culverts that collect rainwater so that more of it can be stored at any given time, giving the city’s pumping stations more time to send it into Lake Pontchartrain. In some places, an 18- or 20-inch pipe is being replaced by a culvert you could drive a bus through, said Rene Poche, a spokesman for the Army Corps. It’s all scheduled to wrap up sometime in 2016 or 2017.

Poche said that with Mardi Gras approaching, construction crews will follow the same script as last year, fencing off equipment and materials along certain sections of the Napoleon Avenue neutral ground, then resuming work on Ash Wednesday. While the work isn’t rerouting any parades, the fenced-off areas will certainly mean less standing room as the floats and marching units go by.

“There will be some spots where that entire width of the neutral ground won’t be available,” Poche said.