While it may be difficult to imagine Mardi Gras floats navigating around the cranes and construction fences that dominate an ever-growing swath of Napoleon Avenue, officials say the site should be secure in time for the coming year's parades to pass without disruption.
As the construction zone grows past St. Charles Avenue in the next year, however, Carnival season in 2015 is expected to bring some changes.
Napoleon Avenue is in the middle of a five-year, two-phase project contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install a major new drainage canal from South Claiborne Avenue to Constance Street (part of a much larger project to reduce flooding from rainstorms that will install similar canals on Jefferson and Louisiana avenues). The $55 million segment from Claiborne to Carondelet Street began in late 2011, and preparations for the $38 million Carondelet-to-Constance phase recently began with the clearing of crape myrtle trees from the neutral ground. The final phase of construction will not conclude until 2016.
Construction on the segment near Claiborne was well underway during Mardi Gras 2013, but the krewes said they felt minimal impact from it.
"It was pretty self-contained," said King Logan, a spokesman for the Rex Organization. "They had done a good job of fencing off the construction areas."
Paradegoers should expect a similar experience this spring, said District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who represents the area and who met with project officials about the issue Nov. 19. The contractor, Boh Brothers, will fill in or fence off any excavated areas necessary to allow the parades to proceed as normal along the upper segment, Cantrell said. On the lower segment, Boh Brothers will hold off on some of the more extensive work until after the parades are over.
"What I'm being told by the Corps and the [New Orleans Department of Public Works (DPW)] is that Mardi Gras 2014 will see no impact at all," Cantrell said. "DPW will be responsible to make sure that the construction underway now is cleared up for Mardi Gras 2014."
Kristin Dunflous, captain of the Krewe of Iris, said she recently drove by Napoleon Avenue to check out the status of construction, but city officials are telling her krewe to expect to ride as normal in 2014. Last year, riders in Iris lined up on South Claiborne, but they will return to their usual starting point at Carondelet Street this year.
"As long as Napoleon and Carondelet is good, we're good," Dunflous said.
Likewise, Rex has not been told to expect any changes to its route this year, Logan said.
After Mardi Gras, major construction on the final phase of Napoleon will begin to cross over St. Charles, which may change the way parades line up in 2015, Cantrell said. Those specifics have yet to be determined, however.
"Right now we don't know how significant it will be, but NOPD and DPW are working on an alternate traffic pattern for lining up," Cantrell said. "We're going to work to make sure it's as minimal as possible."
In the meantime, Dunflous said that she is taking the city at its word that Napoleon will be in good shape by parade time. With the first weekend of parades (Feb. 21-23) fewer than four months away, she has enough to focus on without worry about the road, she said.
"If I start stressing right now in November," Dunflous said, "I'm really going to be stressed by February."