‘Is it too late to be stopped?’ Algiers resident asks as RTA discusses controversial bus line plan

The Regional Transit Authority proposes to reuse its shuttered “Park-n-Ride” site in Algiers as part of its plan to create a bus line that would get exclusive use of the Crescent City Connection’s high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

Called “Bus Rapid Transit,” or BRT, the proposal’s West Bank route would also mean that motorists will lose travel lanes on a portion of Gen. de Gaulle Drive. Those lanes would be set aside for use only by RTA and school buses, along with emergency vehicles.

Likened to a rail transit system, the BRT proposal is intended to carry people who ride buses from New Orleans East and Algiers more rapidly, more reliably and more frequently to the downtown New Orleans area, where some 80,000 people work, according to the RTA.

“We think this is a route that has potential to do really great things for our community,” Dwight Norton, the RTA’s interim chief of planning and infrastructure, told the more than 60 people who gathered Monday (Jan. 23) at the Algiers Regional Library in hopes of learning more about the transit agency’s plans.

While thousands of West Bank commuters will be barred from the HOV lanes when the BRT line becomes operational in 2027, the RTA’s plans for snatching car lanes on Gen. de Gaulle and dedicating them for use by buses remained unclear Monday.

Although members of the audience asked about the dedicated bus lanes on Gen. de Gaulle, and the specter of the bus-only lanes being extended further on Algiers’ main thoroughfare, no details were provided.

“Is it too late to be stopped if we don’t like it?” a member of the audience called out upon learning the RTA wants to extend the dedicated bus lanes to Holiday Drive.

Norton said in response that the RTA would rethink the dedicated bus lane proposal.

“We are not going to fight an overwhelming majority,” he said of the prospect of large-scale pushback by citizens.

Citizens can share their opinions about Bus Rapid Transit by emailing [email protected].

What is clear is that the RTA hopes that more commuters who drive their cars over the CCC daily are willing to use the proposed BRT line instead.

And the RTA hopes the commuting majority that continues to cross the CCC in their cars will be willing to endure longer commute times so that some bus riders have shorter travel times.

According to October 2021 ridership numbers the RTA presented Monday, 1,801 people ride buses from Algiers to Downtown New Orleans each weekday. (This number does not include Jefferson Parish residents who ride that parish’s transit system to downtown New Orleans.)

Meanwhile, during that same month, 81,363 motorists drove across the main CCC spans to downtown in the mornings, and 88,728 motorists drove the opposite direction during the evenings, the RTA says, citing Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development counts.

As for the HOV lanes, which require at least two passengers per vehicle, 4,890 cars were counted in the mornings heading to the east bank, and 2,144 cars were counted heading to the West Bank in the evenings, according to the DOTD numbers the RTA is presenting.

The BRT proposal could cost $250 million to $350 million, half of which would come from federal sources, Norton told the audience. The other half would come from state and local sources, and RTA is able to incur debt through the sale of revenue bonds, Norton said.

The project would include rebuilding the “Park-n-Ride” site at 2501 Wall Blvd., just off Gen. de Gaulle Drive. The RTA closed the site in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina’s winds caused extensive damage to the facilities. The site includes a parking lot where West Bank residents could leave their vehicles and catch buses that cross the Crescent City Connection. For years, the RTA has sought to reuse the site, according to news reports.

Norton said the RTA is “at the end of the (BRT) planning stage. A lot more to go with the project.”

The RTA Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on the BRT route proposal on Tuesday (Jan. 24), during a 10 a.m. meeting at the RTA headquarters. The resolution up for a vote, which you can read by clicking here, includes provisions for “several more rounds of community engagement.”

The “RTA will continue to work with riders, neighborhood residents, City of New Orleans and State officials on the design of the corridor concerning potential impacts to traffic and parking,” the resolution states.

And, the RTA is scheduled to take its proposals to the New Orleans City Council on Feb. 14, Norton said.

During an informational meeting at the Algiers library last year, the RTA suggested the Algiers BRT line would extend to Holiday Drive. But RTA planners opted to use the Park-n-Ride site.

Norton said Monday that the RTA hopes to extend the BRT route to Holiday Drive at some point in the future.

Other nuggets from Monday’s meeting:

  • Less than 10 percent of New Orleans’ population uses RTA buses.
  • The RTA hopes to finalize its BRT designs in 2024.
  • BRT dedicated travel lanes give buses “the ability to move through congestion,” Norton said.
  • On average, it takes an RTA bus to travel during peak afternoon commute time 29 minutes to reach Algiers from Canal and Basin streets. With the BRT and its dedicated lanes, that commute would be reduced to 10 minutes, according tot he RTA.
  • Of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., New Orleans is one of seven without a rapid transit system.