Groups blast city's chronic potholes at rally for infrastructure

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Participants (cautiously) gathered near this Lakeview pothole.
  • Participants (cautiously) gathered near this Lakeview pothole.

In Lakeview, the otherwise-manicured neighborhood where potholes that could swallow an ice cream truck yawn, a small group gathered Wednesday to call for a permanent fix for the streets and dramatic investments in the city's infrastructure.

About 20 people convened at the corner of Florida Boulevard and Rosemary Place to speak out at the edge of a particularly nasty pothole, whose jagged planes and crevasse-like depth seemed to suggest a recent tectonic shift. They banged pots and pans, chanted ("From Lakeview, to 9th Ward, we don't want no potholes!") and held up signs depicting some of the city's more egregious potholes, including sites in Uptown, the 7th Ward and Mid-City.

"I'm on these roads 8-10 hours a day. ... I know how bad these New Orleans city streets are," said Suzanne Oneill, a local cabdriver. "What we need is for our tax dollars to come back to our neighborhoods."

Representatives from organizations Step Up Louisiana, Indivisible NOLA, Our Revolution NOLA and Mobilize New Orleans organized the event in response to a recent budget proposal by President Donald Trump, which cuts federal spending on infrastructure programs and suggests privatization initiatives.

The progressive groups are critical of that budget, and argue that fixing New Orleans' ailing infrastructure — especially on a long-term rather than ad hoc basis — could create much-needed employment opportunities in the city. According to a press release for the event, civil engineers in Louisiana recently gave the state's roads a "D" grade, while bridges received a "D+."

"We've got a problem that goes beyond just pouring some concrete in a hole. ... The land beneath our streets is sinking," Indivisible NOLA head Joyce Vansean said. "We need an infrastructure plan that will create millions of jobs."

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"Do we have an engineering problem, or what's wrong?" asked the Rev. Willie Calhoun. "We have the infrastructure of New Orleans falling in." Calhoun criticized the city for its perceived tendency to seek temporary fixes, such as temporary fill-ins or blocking off holes with cones, rather than addressing underlying structural issues.

In a scenario that's become more and more common in the past several months, event participants were concurrently focused on local and national politics. Though the potential blow to federal infrastructure funding was part of what inspired the event (and with just cause, given that the president frequently touted investments in infrastructure during his campaign), speakers also discussed the possibility of pressure on the state legislature and redirecting city funds toward the pothole problem.

Maria Harmon, co-director of Step Up Louisiana, said the potholes and an associated jobs program would be a better use of city funding than the $40 million city security plan announced earlier this year. "We know that the money is there. It's just how they allocate it," she said.

Harmon described infrastructure repair as something that could break down the powerful race and class barriers that sometimes prevent city residents from sharing common objectives.

"It's the one issue that actually connects all sectors," she said. "When we talk about potholes, it's a universal issue."

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