One Historic Black Neighborhood’s Stake in the Infrastructure Bill

In New Orleans, city officials had not yet decided whether to pursue federal grants and were in the “early stages of reviewing the legislation and the opportunities it creates,” said a city spokesman, Beau Tidwell.

Still, Representative Troy Carter said he hoped the city might be a model in both removing the highway and in reinvesting in the neighborhood and protecting its “heritage.” In various scenarios that state and local leaders have explored, a number of ramps would be taken out or the highway itself would be removed from downtown, with traffic diverted around the area.

“I would love to be able to restore that beautiful corridor to its original luster. But the devil’s in the details,” he said, adding that community input was critical to “make sure we don’t swap one evil for another.”

The highway’s age means it would need to be rebuilt if it were not torn down, said Shawn Wilson, secretary of the state’s Department of Transportation and Development. “So that gives us an opportunity to re-envision what the corridor looks like, in terms of housing, green space and economic opportunity, and in terms of transit, safely connecting the neighborhood.”

In Tremé, century-old oak trees, towering and lush, once lined the wide median along North Claiborne Avenue. As far as the eye could see, they formed a protective green canopy above children playing after Sunday Mass, couples holding picnics and families celebrating the parades and pageantry of Mardi Gras.

“If you talk to anybody in Tremé, they can tell you about the day the trees came down or when the highway was built,” said Lynette Boutte, a hair salon owner whose family’s roots in the neighborhood extend back generations. She wants to see the highway, nicknamed “the bridge” or “the monster” by residents, closed and retrofitted as a green space.

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