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New Orleans Gets $2M to Study Razing Elevated Section of Interstate 10

Fri October 29, 2010 - Southeast Edition

NEW ORLEANS (AP) New Orleans got $2 million in federal money Oct. 20 to look at tearing down an elevated section of Interstate 10 that runs past the French Quarter that’s been blamed for ruining one of the city’s most important black neighborhoods when it was built in the 1960s.

The federal government wants the city to study tearing down the section of interstate that looms over Claiborne Avenue, a main boulevard that runs through downtown New Orleans. The study also will look at how to make neighborhoods along that route more vibrant.

The money comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The future of New Orleans lies in improving our quality of life,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “This grant will guide strategic integrated investments in housing, transportation and land-use planning to realize the full potential in neighborhoods along the Claiborne corridor.”

Tearing down the interstate has become one of the more dramatic proposals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded more than 80 percent of the city after it hit on Aug. 29, 2005, leading to a flurry of urban planning studies and proposals.

It’s not clear yet how surface street traffic would be affected if the span were torn down, but the existing auxiliary route called Interstate 610 would allow traffic to move uninterrupted to the east or west.

Urban planners said the elevated interstate ruined many historic neighborhoods and cut off neighborhoods from the central business districts and French Quarter. Before it was built in the 1960s, Claiborne was a pivotal business corridor for blacks. Today, the boulevard is marred by blight and poverty. The number of businesses along Claiborne dropped by 75 percent after the freeway was built, studies have shown.

“It was a disaster from the outset,” said Bill Borah, a New Orleans land use attorney who fought plans to construct interstates in historic New Orleans when they were proposed in the 1950s. He said neighborhoods along Claiborne would blossom if the interstate were taken down.

He said the proposal to tear it down bubbled up only because of Katrina.

“New Orleans was forced to plan after Katrina because 80 percent of the city was wiped out,” he said.

Still, he said tearing down I-10 would not be “a piece of cake.”

“It has been a problem [to tear down interstates] in even more progressive parts of the country, like San Francisco,” Borah said.

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