Unable to remove expressway, New Orleans reclaims space underneath

By Chris McCahill

In 2013, FHWA funded a revitalization study that outlined ways to remove parts of Interstate 10 in New Orleans and restore historic Claiborne Avenue below. High costs have stalled those efforts but, in the meantime, the city has opted to reclaim space beneath the expressway in an attempt to reactivate nearby neighborhoods affected by the structure.

Built in the 1960s, the Interstate bisected the historic Tremé neighborhood and displaced as many as 326 black-owned businesses. The Congress for the New Urbanism, which named I-10 one of its “Freeways Without Futures” in 2014, produced a short film describing the road’s impacts.

The 2013 study presented several options for the expressway with widely varying price ranges: leaving it as it is, removing on- and off-ramps in residential areas ($100 to $450 million), and converting a large segment into a surface-level urban boulevard ($1 to $4 billion). The study also considered various degrees of transit improvements.

The expressway is staying in place for now, but New Orleans will move forward in developing a Cultural Innovation District along the corridor. By leasing space underneath I-10 from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the city will create space for more than 60 “micro-enterprises,” small businesses, nonprofits, and other installations. It will also receive a matching grant of $840,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Revitalization efforts will eventually span 19 blocks along the Claiborne corridor.

Since the I-10 structure is now roughly 50 years old, it will soon need investments of some kind. Should the city and the state eventually consider the option of replacing the raised expressway, they would join San Francisco, Milwaukee, Rochester, and others in taking a major step toward reversing the decades-old impacts of highways on urban neighborhoods.