The stimulus package is paying entirely for the second phase of rebuilding Fleur de Lis Drive from Veterans Memorial Boulevard to 30th Street, an $11 million project. Image: Regional Planning Commission
The stimulus package is paying entirely for the second phase of rebuilding Fleur de Lis Drive from Veterans Memorial Boulevard to 30th Street, an $11 million project. Image: Regional Planning Commission
New Orleans Department of Public Works will soon begin the first phase of rebuilding Earhart Boulevard, from Hamilton Street to Fern Street, with $11 million in stimulus funding. Image: Regional Planning Commission
New Orleans Department of Public Works will soon begin the first phase of rebuilding Earhart Boulevard, from Hamilton Street to Fern Street, with $11 million in stimulus funding. Image: Regional Planning Commission

Since hitting a record low of 210,768 in 2006, the Crescent City is two-thirds of the way back to its pre-Hurricane Katrina population of 484,674. Last year, in fact, it was the nation's fastest-growing city.

Infrastructure managers are facilitating this regrowth by leveraging multiple funding programs to make assets better than ever.

“We've sought to maximize the feasibility of projects by utilizing a variety of funding sources to accelerate projects,” says Robert Mendoza, a former city traffic engineer who'd gone on to a lucrative career in road-building (see “No Time for Café au Lait,” page 32 of the September 2007 issue of PUBLIC WORKS) before returning to public works as director right after the 2005 hurricane. “Our goal is not only to restore, but to reinforce a solid framework so the city benefits from first-rate infrastructure.”

Since then, Mendoza has supplemented or combined $70 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance Program with other federal, state, and local programs to restore the assets under his team's care: anything related to vehicular, pedestrian, and rail movement within the public right of way.

For example, he leveraged FEMA relief to finance $10 million in street repair, sign replacement, and related projects while supplementing recovery efforts through a $200 million revolving loan fund that Louisiana created in 2007 solely to restore New Orleans' infrastructure.

When the city was declared a federal disaster area in September 2005, the door to the federal Highway Trust Fund's Emergency Relief (ER) Program opened.

In 2007, the Louisiana Department of Transportation Development (DOTD) and Congress created the South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program (SRP) to repair and resurface hurricane-damaged federal-aid roadways.

Of the $100 million in projects scheduled for completion in August 2010, New Orleans has received $130 million for design, inspection, and engineering to jump-start already scheduled projects. Though still in the early planning stages, the city may receive another $100 million through this program.

Public works is using Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, apportioned under a standard formula and based on a community's socioeconomic factors, to fund streetscaping.

Then there's the stimulus package.

 

Ironically, the city's history as a hurricane target is further expediting recovery efforts, mainly by providing the means to address nonroadway-related items such as sidewalk repair, bike lane striping and signage, tree planting, and landscaping.

Of the $27.5 billion the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) allocated for road and bridge improvements, Louisiana received $30 million.

The local metropolitan planning organization created a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) to coordinate the distribution of stimulus funding funneled to Louisiana through FHWA's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which is the state match to the TIP. The TIP grant process is intended to fund projects that represent a regional consensus. As part of the funding process, the city enters into a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) with the state DOT. The state manages financial administration, federal compliance, and monthly program reimbursement tracking while public works collects invoice backup and approves local expenditures.

The state will soon begin reimbursing the department every month based on the FHWA ratio of construction, administration, and inspection costs at the time of authorization, which are 1.5% of project costs. Any overages are addressed jointly by the department and FHWA via the state DOT. Although documentation is usually archived for three years for federal audits, public works will prepare documentation annually in anticipation of potential legislative audits.

So far, the department has received $22 million for two projects. When the state received the construction bids, it determined that the projects don't require a city match — thereby making them 100% federally funded and essentially giving the department “free” money to apply to future match funding. Stimulus enhancement-related funds are also being tacked onto already available financing through the submerged roads program, which is only for work that takes place within the footprint of current projects.

By submitting projects that met the state program's letting schedule as well as the stimulus requirement that projects be completed within a year following the award of competitively procured bids, New Orleans is expected to receive an additional $10 million for 20 road, shared- and dedicated-use bike lane, and landscaping projects (for more information, see the “Web extra” box on this page). They came in at a combined cost of $10 million and just began construction. Another seven enhancement projects went out for bid Sept. 30.

Unlike the projects funded through the state TIP, public works isn't a party to the CEA related to these projects.

Instead, the DOTD works with the state to manage them. As the designated CEA party member, the state oversees stimulus reporting and document-management requirements and public works handles the on-the-ground efforts while continuing to locate and approve enhancement sites, choose materials, and finalize details.

Finding, evaluating, coordinating, and administering new and existing infrastructure funding opportunities is a full-time job in and of itself, so Mendoza — like many managers — retains outside expertise. Since 2006 the city has paid approximately $4 million to firms that specialize in accessing and managing such opportunities.

In addition to providing a strategic plan for maximizing FEMA-eligible work, these firms advocate for clients by serving as intermediaries between the state and federal agencies to ensure the flow of funding continues. In addition, they address any questions or concerns related to the funding and provide any requested documentation to support funding requirements.

 

“We've been able to identify all eligible damages and expedite reimbursement, thereby allowing for a constant stream of federal funding for the construction projects under way,” says Mendoza. “Over the next few years, we'll benefit from additional recovery-related street improvements exceeding $700 million.

“The estimated 300 projects scheduled for the near future concentrate the city's resources on rehabilitating roadways directly affecting local neighborhoods.”

— Norman (jnorman@drconsultants.org) is president of Disaster Recovery Consultants in New Orleans.

Strategic fundraising

Since 2005, the New Orleans Department of Public Works has obtained:

  • $38 million in FEMA reimbursements
  • $270 million in FHWA funds including the submerged roads, off-system bridge, road, and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Enhancement and Safety programs
  • $74 million in state permanent infrastructure repair revolving loans
  • $62 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for streetscaping and road improvements
  • $260 million in general obligation bonds
  • Total = $704 million.
  • Web Extra

    To see how Mendoza's team grouped enhancement projects, and to learn how another Hurricane Katrina victim secured $100 million in federal aid, visit the “article links” page under “resources” at www.pwmag.com.