Thursday, January 18, 2018
Pedestrian Bridge Public Input Session
Algiers Auditorium in Federal City
2485 Guadalcanal Street, New Orleans, LA 70114
By Beau Evans, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, December 13, 2017
The new downtown ferry terminal has a final design in the can and a soft construction start date penciled for around the upcoming Mardi Gras season. But plans remain mostly up in the air for how its companion footbridge will look, according to architects and officials who gave a public update Tuesday night (Dec. 12).
The current 37-year-old terminal is expected to be demolished sometime before Mardi Gras 2018, according to Brian O-Reilly, an engineer with Royal Engineers and Consultants and the project manager for the terminal replacement. He estimated the project should take between 12 and 14 months to complete, depending on weather and the whims of the Mississippi River.
The terminal, meant to replace the current 37-year-old concrete structure at the foot of Canal Street, is set for a more modern look with a circular glass facade and a sleek, sloping canopy. Its main building tallies around 5,000 square-feet, plus another roughly 5,000-square-foot canopy, O'Reilly said Tuesday.
As an update to the new terminal's original design, O'Reilly said his firm expanded and related the access ramp to account for a five-foot drop in grade between Spanish Plaza and the terminal site. The aim, O'Reilly said, was to make sure the terminal is ADA-compliant on all sides.
"We put a lot of attention on making sure this project was smooth 360-degrees from an ADA-perspective," O'Reilly said. "You no longer have difficult transitions. You always have switchback ramps, you always have accessibility into the building no matter where we had to site it."
The final design, unveiled Tuesday night, positions the new terminal closer to the river than the old, leading to two 100-foot-long covered gangways attached to a two-port floating dock. That dock will receive a pair of new ferry boats, which transit officials estimate could arrive as early as spring of 2018.
The gangways, O'Reilly said, will be between 11 and 12 feet in width to accommodate bicycles and scooters. Mark Major, who heads up ferry operations for Transdev, said Tuesday that each of the new ferry boats will be able to carry 15 bikes, plus a few scooters.
Some attendees at Tuesday's meeting expressed concerns about the gap between the main terminal building and the gangways. Fred Neal J., president of the board of directors for the transit advocacy group Ride New Orleans, speculated that the layout could cause confusion.
"Without a system I could see just a mass of people, when the boat pulls up, running and standing there not in a real orderly way," Neal said. "That's something that we'd love to hear more about."
O'Reilly agreed that the potential issue could use a closer look.
"The goal is to open up the riverfront," he said. "I think that's a great goal for the city, but all of a sudden you're going to have people, pedestrians, walking across the riverfront both going to the Riverwalk and to the aquarium, back and forth."
During construction, O’Reilly said the old Jackson Avenue ferry terminal will be moved upriver to across from Bienville Street, where it will serve as a “temporary floating platform” to keep regular ferry service uninterrupted. The Jackson Avenue terminal has not been used since the ferry service from Gretna moved to Canal Street in 2009, and recently saw an ownership swap from the state to the Port of New Orleans.
“The ferry service will be run continuously from a temporary floating platform right beside the site," O'Reilly said Tuesday night.
The Gretna service was cut in 2013, and drivers are no longer able to drive their cars onto the Algiers ferry as they could in years past. The new ferries also will not accommodate vehicles.
The old terminal, referred to by architects Tuesday as “the hammerhead,” has been on the chopping block since at least 2014, when transit officials began testing the waters for federal grant money. Though fallen into disrepair, many ferry riders and their advocates favor the existing terminal's covered walkway, which they say guards against weather and provides passage over the riverfront train tracks.
"We should at a minimum, out of the new facility, get what we've got now," Eric Songy, chairman of the Algiers Neighborhood Presidents Council, said Tuesday. "At least what we have, but with everything working and being ADA-compliant."
O'Reilly, addressing concerns about the bridge, noted that the terminal's final design includes an expanded canopy for the main building as well as covered gangways. But he acknowledged that new the terminal itself will not fulfill all calls for overhead coverage, particularly as it relates to the pedestrian bridge.
“We couldn’t accommodate all of that," O'Reilly said. "But we were able to accommodate a lot of it.”
The new footbridge, which looks to arrive as a separate project to replace the existing terminal's covered walkway, consumed the lion's share of discussion at Tuesday's meeting. That bridge, for which around $7.4 million has been earmarked so far, has stoked public ire for nearly a year after transit officials unveiled plans in January for the terminal rebuild project that did not include a replacement for the existing pedestrian overpass spanning the riverfront train tracks. The New Orleans City Council, in March, secured a pledge from the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and its managerial firm, Transdev, that a new bridge would be built.
Several months later, in October, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office announced funding had been secured for the bridge. But public tempers have flared anew over the bridge since the announcement, particularly following revelations that the bridge may not come with any overhead coverage despite money being allocated for other items like a "video board" listed in draft budgets.
Ray Manning, whose firm has been tapped to design the bridge, likened the line item Tuesday to a "lifelike" art mural consisting of "sophisticated technical boards" for the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, on whose property the bridge has been proposed to be located. Manning, addressing around 50 meeting attendees, said the potential feature wouldn't display advertising or any gaudy lights "like Las Vegas."
"It was the idea that you would be actually looking at the shark tank and you would see schools of fish, perhaps," Manning said Tuesday. "You would be seeing some activity in the actual aquarium, or some whale scenes from some locations from around the world."
"It wasn't ever intended to be a lighted board," he continued. "It was more of a visual board."
Manning, along with Audubon's president, Ron Forman, stressed Tuesday that nothing has been set in stone for the bridge, including its exact location. Manning did, however, say that among four potential locations, his firm reasons the site on Audubon's property would make the most sense technically, financially and aesthetically.
An agreement that officials say would hand authority over the bridge's location design, construction to Audubon is pending City Council approval.
Forman, for his part, said Tuesday that Audubon did "not prefer to" have the bridge built on its property. Rather, Forman said Audubon agreed to host the bridge as part of a larger vision to open up and beautify the riverfront area amid several upcoming development projects, an aim that Manning also touted as has Mayor Landrieu.
"We want something that's going to be something we're all proud of at the foot of Canal Street," Forman said Tuesday. "What it is, we have no idea."
Landrieu has figured the bridge as icing on the cake for the upcoming ferry terminal rebuild, on top of renovations to the Moonwalk and Spanish Plaza walkway areas and a riverfront land swap with the New Orleans Public Belt earlier this year. All these developments, Landrieu said in Friday's news release, should make for a "completely new riverfront experience in 2018, the 300th anniversary of our city's founding."
Likewise, O'Reilly said Tuesday that the terminal design squares with the holistic view of a more open riverfront.
“We’re providing what we like to say is a very iconic structure, as the foot of Canal Street deserves," he said. "It’s been a long time since that area had an update.”