Mayor Cantrell Tackles Infrastructure in #TellCantrell Campaign

Hosting her first #tellcantrell Facebook video event since October 5th, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell tackled infrastructure. Mayor Cantrell was flanked by “Aline” Carter who is in charge of social media for the city, and by Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Infrastructure Ramsey Green. The issues discussed included the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Sewerage and Water Board (SWB).

In a soft-spoken voice, Mayor Cantrell introduced herself and Green to the small Facebook Live audience. Speaking of infrastructure, she said:

“I know this is a top priority for residents, and infrastructure means a lot, particularly we’re going to focus pretty heavily on roads, streets, maintenance of that; but make no mistake about it, infrastructure also touches transportation options, so we’re not shy about that, even as relates to bikes and bike paths. But we’re going to focus here mostly this afternoon on infrastructure relative to street repair,  maintenance, resources- you’ve been hearing about these billions of dollars that we have still in federal dollars to push out the door and to repair to pave streets out the door, throughout the city of New Orleans. The needs are great, and we recognize that.”

The problems with the SWB, she explained, are that previous administrations have continuously been kicking the can down the road. “This is the administration and I’m the woman who’s leaning over to pick up the can, and we’re picking up that can, and we’re just owning anything that’s in there. We’re not making any excuses, but we’re trying to be as transparent as possible. We have work to do, and in this administration, we’re doing the job.”

Giving one example of infrastructure, the Broad St. overpass, she said, “That’s a major artery where people get to and from work and school. And that’s actually the route that I take in the morning. I’ve been frustrated too.”

Carter explained that there would be seven topics, but first, they wanted to cover RoadWork NOLA, explaining that people have difficulty understanding it.

Covering it, Ramsey gestured to a GNOLA the Gnome, “who shows up at various construction sites.”

Green added, “People need to know what’s happening (what construction work is being done in) their neighborhoods, and RoadWork NOLA is the way we do that.” According to Green, Roadwork NOLA is basically a communication program. He explained that when they work on the Broad overpass they have employees canvas the neighborhood so nearby residents know what’s going on. “It’s our community facing side of our infrastructure program.”

The subject of catch basins was covered next: “A lot of work has been done on the catch basins, especially since the August 5th flood.” Green also talked about a new addition to to the Roadwork NOLA site coming in January or February – a map of the city marked with each of the 70,000 catch basins. Residents will be able to click on a particular basin and see whether or not it has been cleaned, repaired, or worked on in the past three years. If there’s a problem, you will be able to file a 311 complaint. This is a significant digital update to the previous system, which Green referred to as “pen and paper in trucks,” adding “with coffee stains on them.”

Next up, the group covered the Max Pave/Paving Restoration, “or whatever,” as Cantrell put it, to laughter from others on the panel. “I don’t care what you call it, I just want to get it done.”  

According to Green, “People know the gravel holes in the streets. And those are technically called service cuts.” These holes would be the result of the Sewage and Water Board digging a hole to find a problem or leak and then filling it with gravel. “Heretofore, paving those has not been done efficiently.” Previously, paving them wasn’t a priority, but with new SWB leadership, the SWB is taking ownership of that. Due to the differences in street material, they’re tackling Algiers first.

They also created a team to hold the people fixing those holes, especially contractors, accountable. “We need better standards in this city.”

The team also discussed the funds that the city got for hurricane Katrina damage from FEMA.  Green said, “What that added up to was about $1.4 billion for the city. And about $300 million or less for Sewerage and Water Board.” Of that money, only one percent had been used. “All of those dollars can only be used if both the SWB and DPW create a plan to work together.”

Adding a sense of urgency to construction, Cantrell referred to the federal money the city has, saying, “There’s no guarantee that the money won’t go away if we hold back on spending those dollars.”

They also discussed one possibility to lower the risk of flooding, especially in Mid City – considering using City Park to hold potential flood water. The same was suggested for Audubon Park.

Altogether, the video and discussion were extremely informative, raising hope for progress in infrastructure in the city.

Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. If you like this piece, you can read more of his work here.

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