The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s Rampart-St. Claude streetcar, which was shut down after being damaged in the 2019 Hard Rock hotel collapse, is finally on pace to reopen in the coming months. After repeated delays, the 1.6-mile route is scheduled to go back online in January, RTA officials say.

At a construction cost of more than $40 million, the line only ran for about three years before the hotel collapse severely damaged the streetcar’s power lines. The route has now been closed for more than four years.

When it opened, the line, which runs along Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue, was cheered by city officials as a major catalyst for new investment along the corridor, though many transit advocates criticized it as primarily catering to tourists. 

Returning it to service has cost the agency $2.3 million, according to officials. The RTA hopes to recover those funds in a potential settlement with the Hard Rock developers. 

In an interview, RTA CEO Lona Edwards Hankins said she sees the streetcar reopening as a “huge win for the public.” 

“There are commuters that use it. The tourists use it. The businesses want it to be returned,” Hankins said. 

The reopening will come at a time when the RTA  is facing growing criticism over delays, particularly along its bus lines. Last week, the agency announced plans to take some of its buses out of its active fleet and adjust its bus service schedules — likely increasing scheduled wait times between buses, which cover much more of the city than the RTA’s streetcar lines. 

Sam Buckley, policy director for transit group Ride New Orleans, said while the transit advocacy group is happy to see the line restored, he doesn’t expect it to make a big difference in residents’ commutes. 

“It’s not a service that is primarily targeted towards residents; it was put in place for primarily economic development purposes,” he said. 

The route opened in 2016 at a cost of $41.5 million — paid for with bond proceeds. Part of a broader effort at the time to expand streetcar service in the city’s core, the line connected to a separate streetcar spur that runs along Loyola Avenue through the Central Business District, ending at the Union Passenger Terminal train station. 

 “As a result of this most recent investment in infrastructure a renaissance is happening along the historic Rampart and St. Claude corridor,” then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu was quoted as saying in an October 2016  press release announcing the route’s opening. 

Part of that renaissance was to be the highrise Hard Rock hotel at 1031 Canal St., at the corner of Rampart Street. Building began in 2018, but on Oct. 12, 2019 part of the building collapsed, killing three workers and shutting down service for the streetcar line. 

The RTA has since faced multiple delays getting the line back into operation. The agency originally announced that service on Rampart and St. Claude would return in late 2021. But the agency was not able to fully assess the damage caused by the collapse until demolition of the hotel was finished in 2021. It found that three poles, built to strict historic standards, that supported overhead power lines on the streetcar line needed to be replaced. That took longer than expected, Hankins said. 

Hankins said additional delays resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing shortages kept pushing the full reopening of the line back. The latest delay has been with the city’s Department of Public Works, which had to review the RTA’s original traffic control plan. Plans were approved in early summer and construction on the line – replacing the poles and adjusting the tensioning system along the line – is expected to be completed by the end of this month. Then an internal safety team will retest the track and operators will go through training before it is fully reopened. 

The agency has yet to announce a specific reopening date in January. 

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Before joining Verite, Bobbi-Jeanne Misick reported on people behind bars in immigration detention centers and prisons in the Gulf South as a senior reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration...