The elevated I-10 Claiborne Avenue Expressway severed the historic African-American Tremé neighborhood in the late 1960s and continues to spark controversy today.
The six-lane elevated Interstate-10 Claiborne Avenue Expressway looms over North and South Claiborne Avenue from St. Bernard Avenue to the Pontchartrain Expressway in downtown New Orleans.¹ The massive concrete structure was built above what was once a tree-lined commercial corridor that served the historic African-American Tremé neighborhood and adjacent areas.² Tremé was widely considered a slum by the mid-twentieth century, and while the community was opposed to the expressway’s construction, the voices of its disenfranchised residents were ignored and site clearing began in February 1966.³ The last section of the roughly two-mile stretch of expressway was completed in December 1972.⁴ It was one of many municipal improvement projects that dramatically impacted Tremé’s physical and social fabric over the course of the twentieth century.
By contrast, the Riverfront Expressway, another proposed six-lane elevated expressway that would have run past the historic Vieux Carré along the Mississippi River, was defeated in the late 1960s in a fierce and highly publicized preservation battle.⁵ While it is often said that the preservation community offered Claiborne Avenue as an alternate location for the expressway, the Tremé segment was in fact included in the city’s broader plans for an inner-city interstate system as early as 1954.⁶ Nevertheless, while the preservation community was consumed with saving the Vieux Carré, another historically significant, yet substantially poorer, neighborhood was devastated with little to no protest from outside groups.
When the expressway began showing signs of deterioration in the 2000s, it incited discussions about whether it was worth the substantial cost of repair. The Claiborne Corridor Improvement Coalition, a group of developers, neighborhood groups, government agencies, and others, was formed to advocate for the restoration of North Claiborne Avenue as a vibrant neighborhood boulevard.⁷ This group, along with Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), commissioned a study of alternatives that included the expressway’s removal. The study was published in July 2010.⁸ The Livable Claiborne Communities Study, a broader, federally funded planning study managed by the Mayor’s Office of Place-Based Planning, was completed in 2013.⁹
A short film by CNU about the history and future of Claiborne Avenue and the expressway is available here.
1. Kim Tucker Henry, “Deconstructing Elevated Expressways: An Evaluation of the Proposal to Remove the Interstate 10 Claiborne Avenue Expressway in New Orleans, Louisiana” (master’s thesis, University of New Orleans, 2009), 10-18.
2. Smart Mobility Inc. and Waggonner & Ball Architects, “Restoring Claiborne Avenue: Alternatives for the Future of Claiborne Avenue,” July 15, 2010.
3. “Tree Salvage Work Started,” The Times-Picayune, February 10, 1966.
4. “Interstate-10 Section in N.O. to Open Today,” State-Times, December 8, 1972.
5. Richard F. Weingroff, “The Battles of New Orleans—Vieux Carré Riverfront Expressway (I-310),” for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Division, October 27, 2013.
6. Michael E. Crutcher, Jr., Tremé: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 59-60; and Henry, “"Deconstructing Elevated Expressways,” 15.
7. Smart Mobility Inc. and Waggonner & Ball Architects, “Restoring Claiborne Avenue: Alternatives for the Future of Claiborne Avenue.”
9. Bruce Eggler, “Claiborne Avenue study looks at removing ramps but leaving elevated expressway,” nola.com, April 4, 2013.