Fix Our Streets task force eyes action plan for New Orleans infrastructure

 

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Kevin Litten of The Times-Picayune reports that The Fix My Streets task force studying how to repair New Orleans’ 1,500 miles of decaying street infrastructure is looking to take action after a long period of reviewing data and reports.

Their plans are emerging as city officials release two key reports: A street-by-street assessment of the condition of city streets, which came out Sunday (Aug. 28), and a review of the financial options the city has to raise money needed to fix them, due at the end of September (NOLA.com).

Task force members met Tuesday and said they’re ready to use the information to begin making recommendations — a key charge when Mayor Mitch Landrieu created the group in November.

“We have yet to sit around and look at one sheet of paper that says this is where the money is coming from and this is where the money is going,” task force member Freddy Yoder, a construction industry executive. “We need to get the word out and put it in simple terms that people can understand” (NOLA.com).

Task force members were told Tuesday the city has hired PFM Group to begin an analysis of all the sources of funding the city could marshal to pay for what’s expected to be a $5 billion investment to fix city roads over the next 20 years. The analysis released Sunday found the city will need to invest between $200 million and $350 million annually on capital improvements such as road reconstruction and an additional $30 to $35 million on annual maintenance of city streets (NOLA.com).

The $2 billion settlement New Orleans negotiated with FEMA for post-Katrina infrastructure funding falls far short of covering the city’s needs. The task force could become a key player in recommending ways to raise roadwork revenue to the mayor, City Council and state legislators (NOLA.com).

There are a number of options on the table, including selling bonds, the state capital outlay process, and transportation utility fees. Some items may be more controversial, such as removing certain property tax exemptions for nonprofits, which would require legislative action and require voter approval (NOLA.com).

The nonprofit tax exemption issue was discussed briefly Tuesday and whether any money raised could be dedicated to road repairs. State Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, said she would be inclined to support legislation if it had such a dedication. In an interview, she said would need to examine how much revenue such a proposal would generate and ensure it was administered fairly (NOLA.com).

These are just the early conversations the task force is having, chairwoman Norma Jean Mattei said. The civil engineer and University of New Orleans professor said the group is eager to begin meeting in committees to discuss recommendations, and it’s likely to begin meeting more frequently in the coming months (NOLA.com).

During Tuesday’s meeting, Yoder distributed a proposal drafted by a small group of task force members that calls for forming three committees: one that would focus on construction; a second that would examine how to fill the gap between the FEMA money and the project’s cost; and a third that would do long-term financial planning (NOLA.com).

“To go from $200 million to $450 million a year (in infrastructure investments) is a tremendous leap,” Yoder said. “We need to take what money we have available and designate it to carry the water for 20 years to come,” he said (NOLA.com).

Yoder said he also hopes the group can ensure New Orleans residents have a clearer picture of how long it will take to fix their roads. The assessment of city street conditions was created in part to help prioritize which streets are most in need of fixing, and it establishes a management plan aimed at ensuring the city is using resources efficiently. But actually deploying resources and getting streets fixed will take time (NOLA.com).

“Everybody’s streets are terrible,” Yoder said. “Everyone needs to learn how to be patient. This is a 20-year program” (NOLA.com).

See the article here.

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