Nearly a decade after the Regional Transit Authority first raised the prospect of building a new terminal for the Canal Street-Algiers Point Ferry, local, state and federal officials on Wednesday celebrated the opening of the $43.5 million facility they hope will improve transit access and help open up the riverfront.
Under a scorching morning sun, ferry passengers passed by its sleek glass façade and across a new pedestrian overpass to board the RTA’s ferries to Algiers.
Officials said the terminal was one of a number of important investments designed to bring new life to areas along the Mississippi River. The foot of Canal Street has been the site of several projects in recent years, all geared to improving access and connecting different segments of the riverfront together.
But as work progressed on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center, the renovation of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americans, the refurbishment of Spanish Plaza and the terminal, the area has been a headache for pedestrians navigating all the construction work.
Nuria Fernandez, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, which dedicated $24.3 million to the project, cheered “a new and improved seamless connection along the river to the Audubon Aquarium, the Spanish Plaza.”
Officials also said the new terminal was important for expanding access between the city’s two banks, especially for people with disabilities, because of the terminal’s ADA compliant design.
U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, recalled the importance of the ferry to him growing up in Algiers, calling it a “gateway to the city.”
This investment is “long overdue,” he said.
The project has faced repeated delays since it was first proposed during Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. A series of design changes pushed back the original timeline that had envisioned a new terminal arriving during the city’s tricentennial in 2018.
Crews finished the demolition of the aging former terminal two years ago, and at that time, the opening date for the new terminal was set for December 2022. That proposed opening was nine months behind another official timeline released before the coronavirus pandemic.
The RTA is also working to build a new terminal on the other side of the river in Algiers Point, using a $5.7 million federal grant.
Disembarking from the ferry Tuesday morning with an acoustic guitar case in hand, William Bonham said that while the new terminal looks “lovely,” it doesn’t address all of the transit challenges that regularly make him late for work or leave him stranded trying to get home.
He takes the ferry almost every day to get to work as a swamp tour guide and busking musician in the French Quarter and said it always runs on time. The problem, he said, is that bus delays from his home in Algiers to the ferry and back make his commute a constant challenge.
“You just never know when a bus isn’t going to be there,” said Bonham.
RTA CEO Lona Edwards Hankins readily admits that the city’s bus system, far more widely used than its ferries, are not up to snuff.
“We have inherited an aged fleet,” Hankins said, many of which require daily maintenance, resulting in delays.
But she pointed to the city’s recent award of a $71.4 million federal grant to electrify a portion of its bus fleet as a crucial investment towards addressing these issues.
Courtney Jackson, executive director of RIDE, a transit advocacy organization, lauded the new terminal’s accessible design, but shared some of Bonham’s concerns. She said that it could take years for the RTA’s buses to roll out, and in the meantime, riders need more accurate information about arrival times through more consistent and transparent RTA communication.
As officials prepared to cut the ribbon Tuesday morning, Anthony Harding stood by the ferry admiring the new design.
He lives in Metairie but often comes downtown to take walks along the waterfront.
“I think it’s gorgeous — I think it was well-needed, well-deserved for the city,” said Harding, motioning to the small modern structure, especially given the rough shape the old building was in.
But he’s not a frequent ferry rider. If he ever wants to visit the West Bank, he’d still plan to drive, he said.