Updated Feb 20, 12:03 PM; Posted Feb 20, 12:02 PM
By Beau Evans
email@example.com, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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Transit officials expect work to build a new $27 million ferry terminal at the foot of Canal Street in downtown New Orleans to begin in September, after bids go out for the project as early as May.
The estimated break-ground date came as transit officials requested a tweak to plans for the terminal project that would slightly push back its schedule, according to officials who spoke Tuesday (Feb. 20) at a New Orleans Regional Transit Authority meeting. Planners also outlined progress Monday night on an accompanying pedestrian bridge that has riled many ferry riders for not including a roof in preliminary designs.
At RTA's finance committee meeting Tuesday, officials with the transit agency's manager, Transdev, requested that the firm designing the terminal, Manning Architects, hash out specifics for the proposed terminal's sloping metal roof. To date, the project has called for the general contractor to design and build the roof, creating the potential for complications to occur down the road during construction, according to Transdev's infrastructure director, Martin Pospisil, and its vice president, Justin Augustine III.
That tweak in the planning phase requires approval from RTA's board of commissioners next week, plus time for Manning Architects to recruit a specialty design firm for the roof, Pospisil and Augustine said.
Once all the design pieces are in place, Transdev officials said a bid for the terminal project should go out it May, with a contract to be awarded in July or August. Construction crews should break ground in September and take between 12 and 14 months to build the terminal, assuming weather and river conditions present no problems, Augustine said.
Designs for the ferry terminal call for a main building roughly 5,000 square feet in size plus another 5,000 square feet for the metal roof, according to Ray Manning, the president and CEO of Manning Architects. That facility is slated to include bathrooms and ticket boxes, and will stand about 70 feet from two covered gangways leading to a new ferry landing on the Mississippi River bank. The new landing has been designed to accommodate new ferry vessels the RTA has purchased, Manning said.
Speaking at a community meeting Monday night in Algiers, Manning said the Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval for the project last month and that a bid should be solicited "shortly." During construction, a temporary landing will be installed in front of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas to provide uninterrupted ferry service, Manning said.
Over the past year, RTA has decided to tack on a new pedestrian bridge in response to public outcry early last year over the new terminal's lack of any elevated walkway to replace the current terminal's footbridge. The new bridge will be next to the aquarium, and Audubon has been spearheading its design. While no final design is in place year, officials said say the bridge will at least include stairs and an elevator for ADA access. The bridge is expected to be finished before the full terminal project wraps up, Manning said.
Speaking Monday, officials broke down the new bridge's roughly $7.4 million estimated cost as outlined in a cooperative endeavor agreement the New Orleans City Council approved in December. RTA will pay $1.4 million, the New Orleans Building Corp., the city's landlord entity, will pay $900,000, and the city itself will shoulder the largest share at $5 million funded with a bond sale to be conducted sometime this year.
Initially, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office said the source of that $5 million would come from Hurricane Katrina-related insurance proceeds. Records show the City Council allocated $5 million to the Department of Property Management in January for the bridge.
Over the past year, ferry riders and their advocates have bashed the city and RTA for not incorporating a roof for the new bridge in preliminary designs. Their concerns were heightened amid revelations that project planners had crafted a $7 million budget for the bridge that would include between $1 million and $2 million for a "video board."
Speaking Monday, the Audubon Nature Institute president and CEO Ron Forman acknowledged that the Audubon had requested up to $2 million to "dress up" the bridge with "artwork, lighting or whatever it is." He said that Audubon initially did not want the bridge next to its $200 million aquarium, and that any bridge design should complement the aquarium's aesthetics.
As for a roof, Forman and Manning left the door open Monday night for the bridge to have some sort of overhead covering.
"I don't think there's any reason it can't be covered," Forman said.
Amid those reassurances, many of the 65 or so attendees at Monday night's meeting in Algiers criticized the open space between the terminal's main facility and gangways as potentially vulnerable to crowding and weather. Some attendees also lashed out at the design reasons for the spacing, which Manning attributed to a desire by planners to "open up the riverfront" as part of an overall master plan for the area from Spanish Plaza to the Bywater.
"We're just not addressing the big picture, and we're getting bogged down in compartmentalization," said Don Costello, president of the Algiers Historical Society.
Reacting to complaints of lack of public input, Manning said that planners have been attuned to ferry users' concerns since day one.
"We'll never satisfying every requirement of a design," Manning said. "But what we have done I think through this entire process is listen, and actually gone back and worked with various public officials ... and made those accommodations."
Officials said another community meeting will be held in the near future to present design concepts for the bridge. That meeting is expected to take place in four to six weeks.