New Orleans (Canal Streetcar Spine)

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Canal Streetcar Spine

New Orleans, Louisiana

(November 1996)

Description The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is developing a 4.9-mile streetcar project in downtown New Orleans. The Canal Streetcar Spine would extend along the median of Canal Street from the Canal Ferry at the Mississippi River in the Central Business District, through the Mid-City neighborhood, to two outer termini at the Cemeteries and City Park/Delgado Community College. The capital cost estimate is $146.4 million (1996 dollars). Upon completion, the ridership is estimated to be 31,600 passengers per day for the forecast year (2015).

Status Section 3035(fff) of ISTEA directed FTA to negotiate and sign a multiyear grant agreement with the City of New Orleans in the amount of $4.8 million for the completion of alternatives analysis, preliminary engineering, and an environmental impact statement. Through FY 1997, Congress has appropriated $26.38 million in Section 5309 New Start funds.

A major investment study/alternatives analysis was completed in

March 1995 with the selection of the preferred alternative described above. FTA approved the initiation of preliminary engineering (PE) and the preparation of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in

September 1995. The PE/DEIS is scheduled to be completed in

March 1997.

In response to concerns expressed during the PE/DEIS process

by residents along Orleans Avenue about traffic and other impacts from streetcar service, a second (alternative) option for the alignment to City Park is being investigated, terminating at Beauregard Circle and Esplanade Avenue. The capital cost for this alignment will be less than the alignment to City Park/Delgado Community College.

The project is included in the MPO's financially constrained and conforming Transportation Plan and Transportation Improvement Plan.

Justification Mobility Improvements. The Canal Streetcar Spine is expected to save 630 hours of travel time hours per day for the forecast year 2015, compared with the TSM alternative.

Cost Effectiveness. The cost-effectiveness index is under $3 per new transit rider.

Environmental Benefits. The New Orleans metropolitan area is an attainment area for carbon monoxide and a maintenance area for ozone. In addition, the project is expected to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 4,700 miles per day in 2015, and reduce total energy consumed by 6.1 million BTUs per day in 2015.

Operating Efficiencies. The systemwide operating cost per revenue passenger is $0.95 for the build alternative, $1.04 for the TSM alternative, and $1.05 for the No Build alternative.


RTA is expected to seek Section 5309 New Start funding for 80 percent of the cost of the 4.9-mile light rail alternative, or $117.12 million. Most of the local share would be derived from state bonds. The City of New Orleans has committed $1.2 million for planning and engineering. RTA is also seeking to claim the value of the right of way as in-kind match.

The ratings of capital financial commitment and operating revenues are based on the most current information available to FTA. The capital finance plan is rated "low." The RTA plans the state share to come from the State of Louisiana Capital Outlay, funded by State bonds. RTA is considering innovative financing techniques, including application of right-of-way as in-kind match, corporate sponsorship of streetcars, and an "adopt a station" program.

The stability and reliability of operating funds are also rated "low." There have been recent concerns regarding the stability of system operating revenues and the lack of a recovery plan. In 1994, the average age of RTA's bus fleet was 9.8 years, which is slightly above the national average.


Source of Funds




Section 5309 New Start $117.12 ($26.38 million appropriated through FY 1997)

TOTAL $146.40
NOTE: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions.

Other Factors Assessment of Land Use Policies and Conditions: This project was among those in the FTA Office of Planning's pilot assessment of land use and conditions (as a pilot for evaluation and rating of transit-supportive land use policies as a new start criteria, beginning in FY 1999). This pilot application is described earlier in this report. The proposed alignment is within the Canal Street median through an already developed CBD and fringe area corridor, with limited opportunities for major new station area developments. The City has adopted a number of transit-supportive policies in the "New Century-New Orleans" plan including provision for mixed-use high-density development, encouragement of pedestrian and transit-oriented design, and maximum parking allowances for downtown development. Efforts are being formulated to promote public/private joint development in a limited area around the Cemeteries terminal.