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A rapid bus line aims to connect parts of New Orleans, but first, RTA wants route input

A mockup of Bus Rapid Transit in New Orleans
A mockup of Bus Rapid Transit in New Orleans

A new, faster bus line could connect New Orleans East and the west bank to downtown, significantly cutting commute times from those areas and neighborhoods in between.

If you’re taking the bus from New Orleans East to downtown at rush hour, your ride could take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. That makes getting to work, taking your kid to school, or going to a doctor’s appointment a challenge, said Dwight Norton, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s Director of Strategic and Long-Term Planning.

“What we’re doing by not having a fast and reliable transit alternative – we’re telling people they can’t access the same opportunities,” Norton said. The new bus line, called a Bus Rapid Transit project, could cut down travel time between the East and downtown to just 45 minutes, regardless of traffic, Norton said.

Bus Rapid Transit shares many qualities with light rail: buses would have dedicated travel lanes, and riders could buy tickets from 15 to 20 proposed stations along the route. The buses would run at least every 15 minutes during the day, seven days a week, according to an RTA press release. It would be the first such line in the region.

The RTA is seeking input from residents to decide what streets the route would take. You can find a survey — open through Friday, May 6 — at the RTA’s website here.

The transit authority is also holding an open house about the Bus Rapid Transit project at its headquarters, located at 2817 Canal Street, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

After the route is selected and the RTA has completed a study, the transit authority will be able to apply for federal funding to build out the Bus Rapid Transit system, according to the press release.

Norton estimated that residents could see buses on the road in five years.

He noted that the Bus Rapid Transit project is one initiative born out of a strategic planning process that began in 2018. Over that time, housing prices in New Orleans’ city center have increased, he said, forcing residents to move to the East and to the west bank — with increasingly lengthy commutes to jobs and health care.

The RTA estimates that the new Bus Rapid Transit project could provide access for the 30,000 or so people living within a half-mile of the proposed stations to more than 45,000 jobs, and would connect connect between 25% to 38% of households without a vehicle along the route to employment, health care, schools and other essential services.

“We really want everybody to voice their opinions and to be heard and to help us make this as great as it can be, because it can be truly transformative,” Norton said.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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