On May 3, 1978, New Orleans experienced one of its worst flood events, with nearly nine inches of rain falling before noon, inundating the city with two to five feet of flooding, and leaving parents to pick up their schoolchildren in canoes. In the years since and as we continue to grow, so do the climate challenges we face. According to the National Weather Service, April 2021 was the second wettest this city has experienced in the last 20 years, receiving nearly 13 inches of rain when the average is fewer than six.
When President Biden outlined plans for $2.3 trillion worth of investments in the nation’s infrastructure, we knew what this could mean for New Orleans. That’s because we understand what critical federal investment in infrastructure looks like, and how to make it work effectively and efficiently for our residents.
Why? Because we’re doing it right now. We are taking federal dollars and rapidly implementing green, blue, and traditional grey infrastructure improvements in a city with some of the oldest, most neglected streets and deteriorating water, sewer, and drainage lines in the United States.
We are— to borrow a phrase from President Biden— building back better.
Last month, the Gentilly neighborhood celebrated the completion of the $15.5 million FEMA-funded Pontilly Stormwater Management Network, which incorporates a large bioswale, pervious concrete walking paths, and parking lanes, as well as formerly vacant lots transformed into beautiful pocket parks. All told, this network of interventions can store more than eight million gallons of stormwater and reduce flooding as much as 14 inches during a 10-year rain event.
And when a Pontilly resident and neighborhood leader says,“We’ve watched it work. Over the past couple of months, with the rain events we’ve had, we actually saw how the process worked – how it fills up, how it slowly goes out. It’s been actually saving us from flooding.” How gratifying is it to hear those words? And to know that we are getting it done – and done well!
At this moment, more than 60 roadwork projects are under construction across the city, and within six months 10 more projects funded by FEMA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development resilience funds will enter the construction phase. We are quickly becoming a model for how to build back a resilient and sustainable city.
And given the more than $2.3 billion in spending involved in this work, our local businesses are now in a position to participate and succeed in completing this work. Engineers, designers, builders, and laborers are all able to work and – one day soon – export these new, next-generation skills in building better, tougher community assets throughout our nation.
While the COVID-19 pandemic wrought an historic and tragic impact onto our city, it also forced us to navigate the complexity of continuing our infrastructure work during an unprecedented time. We accelerated projects not in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in part because of the pandemic, knowing full well that pushing them out— while following safety guidelines— could keep a critical part of our economy moving forward.
Along the way, creating more equitable, accessible and safer streets for all who use them, whether driving, bicycling or walking. As we implement our Moving New Orleans Bikes plan, we’re repaving roads and sidewalks and creating Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible curbs. These will make for smoother streets as we work to re-imagine our regional transit system with the recently approved New Links plan in coordination with the Regional Transit Authority and the Regional Planning Commission.
We’re also working to improve other facets of our infrastructure. We’re doing it with Solar for All NOLA, a clean energy initiative available to homeowners and small businesses through the financial and resiliency benefits of rooftop solar. We’re doing it with the recently announced Advanced Broadband and the “Smart City” Request for Proposals (RFP). With this RFP, we’re seeking proposals to deliver broadband connectivity and a host of Smart City solutions that will improve City services, improve quality of life, promote economic development and bridge the digital divide. We’re doing it by bringing to service six plug-in hybrid electric trucks and charging stations at the SWBNO’s Central Yard. And we’re also teaming up with Entergy to build as many as 56 charging stations for electric cars with resident input on their locations.
All told, we spend more than $5 million every week on infrastructure projects, and as of December 2020, more than 1,100 new jobs had been created as part of the City’s infrastructure program.
Our rapid implementation of so many projects translates to a lot of work for the many small businesses that fuel our economy. And we’re doing it equitably so that everyone has an opportunity to participate. Earlier this year, I announced a restructuring of the procurement process to improve participation in and overall accountability of our supplier diversity program.
Wherever you look in President Biden’s infrastructure plans, you see New Orleans.
Investments in HBCUs? We have Xavier University of Louisiana, Dillard University, and Southern University-New Orleans.
Investments in transportation? We’re fixing our streets and sewer lines, building out a connected bikeway network and re-imagining our regional transit system, all while featuring one of the nation’s newest airport terminals, one of the nation’s busiest ports, and soon, a return of connected rail lines along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Investments in workforce development? Our Office of Workforce Development has provided more than 1,545 new job seekers with employment and training services, employed 221 youth through the Youth Works NOLA Mayor’s Summer Employment Program, and secured $5 million awarded from JP Morgan Chase AdvancingCities to provide training for job seekers and small businesses to support employment opportunities in the blue and green infrastructure industry sectors.
Investments in Affordable Housing? We’ve secured millions of dollars for rental assistance to prevent evictions during the pandemic, relaunched the Soft Second Down Payment Assistance Program, increased the amount of down payment assistance from $35,000 to $45,000 in keeping with the increase cost of housing, and by the end of 2020 had 525 affordable housing units under construction and approximately 800 housing units in predevelopment. The City’s Office of Housing Policy and Community Development in 2020 secured more than $18.5 million in new funding for affordable housing and community development projects.
We have positioned our city to be Ground Zero for infrastructure investment.
When President Biden announced the American Rescue Plan and what it could mean for New Orleans, we transformed our COVID-19 Reopening Advisory Panel into the Stimulus Command Task Force, focusing on how to put federal dollars to work. This is what we do: ensuring that our residents get their fair share. We did it with our Fair Share campaign to direct tax revenue more fairly into the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans’ work to fix our aging pipes, we did it with federal dollars to improve our roads AND pipes, and we’re doing it with the stimulus package.
Federal dollars to move this city forward as we continue our Road to Recovery? We got this.