“I’m not saying…I’m just saying.” Mayor Landrieu Opens Door to Removing I-10 and Reconnecting New Orleans

"I'm not saying I'm for it," he said. "I'm just saying it's worth thinking about." That’s how Mayor Landrieu recently addressed the proposal to remove 2 miles of Interstate 10 from central New Orleans. It may not be a ringing endorsement, but everything else he said confirms that this represents a major move in the right direction.

Landrieu recently called the proposal “a game-changer” and recognized that I-10 "gave people more impetus to bypass the city than to stay in it." So another big city mayor understand the mistake made by ripping apart a city to built an urban Interstate, but like most places, this realization seems to lead only to a call for contemplation. “I’m just saying it’s worth thinking about.”
A bit of background: Claiborne Avenue was the center of the Treme neighborhood, one of the first free African-American communities in the United States. It was thriving in the 1950’s and 60’s, declining in wealth and vibrancy in the following decades. Today, Treme is a depicted in an HBO series and is still in many ways the cultural heart of New Orleans jazz and African-American culture.
I-10 was constructed in the 1960’s. The original plan was to build the Interstate between the Mississippi River and the French Quarter. Residents and preservationists successfully prevented its construction there and it was moved to largely follow Claiborne Avenue through the Treme and other neighborhoods to the north of the Quarter. Claiborne was an easy target for two reasons, the large boulevard had ample space for an elevated freeway that left neighboring blocks in-tact and it was a largely African-American neighborhood without the political capital to successfully oppose the plan.

{view of Claiborne Avenue in 1966 – live oaks were replaced with elevated Interstate 10}
The 1970’s saw the construction of I-610, bypassing the historic central city and providing a much more direct path for through traffic. This 2-mile section of I-10 has been redundant for nearly 40 years. Today, the Unified New Orleans Plan states that removal of I-10 would un-blight up to 40 city blocks and make available up to 25 blocks of open space.
The pro and con crowds are predictable. Supporters say removing I-10 will save money, reconnect one of the city’s great neighborhoods and allow for more a more vibrant urban neighborhood. Those opposed say that traffic would “cause a great inconvenience” and that I-610 may need to be expanded as a result.
Unfortunately, instead of seeing the potential rebirth of a great American neighborhood in a world-class cultural city as having the potential to create a legacy for himself and heal his city, Landrieu sees irony. Saying that the job of a Mayor to attract new residents and businesses is generally attempted by building new infrastructure, Landrieu said “It would be ironic if this administration would be able to do it by things they took down.”

[the 2-mile stretch of I-10 is being considered for removal}

{Claiborne at St. Bernard prior to I-10 construction}

{Claiborne at St. Bernard and I-10 today}