Katrina Leaves New Traffic Challenges in New Orleans
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In Gentilly and other neighborhoods in New Orleans, residents face another problem. More than five months after Hurricane Katrina, the city says only half of its traffic lights are working. As NPR's Ben Bergman reports, the broken lights are just part of the city's new traffic woes.
(Soundbite of traffic)
BEN BERGMAN reporting:
At this intersection in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood, there are 24 lanes of busy traffic. Like many places in the city, none of the traffic lights are working. Only a few stop signs come between Julia Elfman(ph) and the next car over.
Ms. JULIA ELFMAN (Resident, New Orleans, Louisiana): I'm almost thinking about going up on my insurance (laughs) because it is very frightening.
BERGMAN: Elfman says she's stopped driving at night because the stop signs can be so hard to see, especially in areas that still don't have power. She describes what has become a familiar feeling for many drivers in New Orleans.
Ms. ELFMAN: You come up to a stop sign and you think, the person on the left of me going to stop? The person on the right of me going to stop? (Laughs) And then you kind of get a chill that goes through your entire body and then once you see they're stopping, then you go. I've had some close calls, but nothing yet.
(Soundbite of conversation)
BERGMAN: At City Hall, New Orleans Senior Traffic Engineer has a blueprint of one intersection spread out on his desk.
Mr. ALLEN YRLE (Senior Traffic Engineer, City of New Orleans, Louisiana): ...is the controller and it shows how it's gonna be wired up and...
BERGMAN: It's Allen Yrle's job to restore the traffic lights and bring order to the city's chaotic streets.
Mr. YRLE: It's not a pleasant sight, that's for sure.
BERGMAN: The problem, Yrle says, is that when 80% of the city was under water, many of the electronics that control the traffic lights were destroyed.
Mr. YRLE: Any saltwater that got into the control cabinets tended to corrode all the connections in the wiring and to flood the circuits inside and those can't be turned back on until that whole unit is replaced.
BERGMAN: Fixing all the city's traffic lights will cost about $24 million. Rebuilding the lights at just one intersection can take two weeks. At that rate, it'll be a couple of months before most of the traffic lights are working again.
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BERGMAN: In the meantime, drivers have to get used to something they never saw much of before Katrina--heavy traffic.
Mr. ANTO TOMASEVICH(ph) (Resident, New Orleans, Louisiana): Sometimes, it make you a little cranky.
BERGMAN: A few blocks from City Hall, Anto Tomasevich is waiting to pick up passengers in his idling taxi cab on busy Canal Street.
Mr. TOMASEVICH: Before the storm you could get anywhere, half an hour in New Orleans area.
BERGMAN: How long now?
Mr. TOMASEVICH: Ha, ha, all depends. Sometimes you might take one hour just to go the airport or uh, it's a completely different picture.
BERGMAN: The broken lights are part of the traffic problem. Another slowdown is that drivers have new traffic patterns because they're living in different places. Many former New Orleans residents now live in Baton Rouge and commute, clogging the 80 mile stretch between the two cities. It all makes Tomasevich's job harder.
Mr. TOMASEVICH: It makes me crazy sometimes! I just, I just wish, I want it to go back the way it was before (laughs).
BERGMAN: Even with so much traffic on roads without working lights, the New Orleans police say they've seen far fewer traffic accidents since Katrina, but they point out in terms of population, the city is only about a third as big. Ben Bergman, NPR News.
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