Cracking the Code on Fighting Highway Expansion Projects

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Unfortunately, the truth is that Treme and the 7th Ward, like many neighborhoods across the country, are saddled with an aging, unsafe, polluting piece of highway infrastructure. We have to do something about it. I learned about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) more than two years ago, and at that time, I urged Mayor Cantrell to begin having community conversations about equity and displacement—two areas where urbanists have failed in the highways-to-boulevards movement. She didn’t heed my advice. So, as a community, we must initiate the conversation and develop strategies to remain in place on our own.

Moreover, this is the time for New Orleans to seize the opportunity to move forward, since there’s money allocated to remove highways in the IIJA. One of my colleagues, David Waggoner of Waggoner and Ball Architects, identified the removal of the Claiborne Expressway as a hero project. I agree. More and more heroes are saying “yes” to its removal, and I hope the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD) will come to adopt the same mindset.

Quite recently, the LaDOTD’s secretary, Shawn Wilson, invited me to make the case for removal during his technical tour for members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). I was invited to speak because I am a resident of Treme, and an architectural and urban designer. I have been a long-standing proponent for removal of I-10 over Claiborne. The good news is that I am not alone. Members of the Claiborne Avenue Alliance, a grassroots coalition that came together to protest the City’s plan to develop a container village under the interstate, along with a wide array of other community members, also believe that New Orleans would be better off if the Claiborne Expressway were removed.

You may be wondering: How did I get on the LaDOTD’s radar and earn the chance to address their fellow transportation officials and engineering experts?

The answer: My tactical urbanism campaign to remove the highway captured media attention. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure their eyebrows were raised after President Biden identified the highway as an example of transportation investment that caused historic inequity in need of redress. During interviews about the Claiborne Expressway, I took things a step further by openly challenging our state officials to move near an urban highway and subject themselves to the quality of life we’re forced to endure every day. I’m fairly sure Louisiana’s state officials took note.

I consider Secretary Wilson’s invitation a blessing. He gave me a huge opportunity to influence highway builders, and I am thankful for that. What made the opportunity even more interesting was that Secretary Wilson invited Ujamaa Economic Development Corporation, the nonprofit that hopes to develop under the interstate, to present their case, too. Ujaama, a product of former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration and my self-declared opponent, believes that the highway can be repaired and should remain. Unfortunately, they don’t understand what that entails, or what that would mean for Treme.

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