06 September 2019


by O'Neil De Noux

When I was a teenager, the politicians in New Orleans wanted to put an expressway through the French Quarter to modernize the city's transportation system.

From 1964 through 1969, the elevated expressway was designated Interstate 310. The plan was to run it off Interstate 10, down Elysian Fields Avenue to run along the Mississippi Riverfront and connect with the Mississippi River Bridge. It would continue all the way to Earhart Boulevard to become the Earhart Expressway into Jefferson Parish. This elevated 6-lane expressway (40 feet high and 108 feet wide) would separate the Quarter from the river with the federal government paying 90% of the cost.

90%. The politicians salivated at all that money. These are the same guys who let the federal government cut down miles of beautiful, ancient live oak trees along Claiborne Avenue to build the elevated I-10 through the city.

Opposition gathered quickly by the Louisiana Landmarks Society and Vieux Carré Propery Owners Association. Unfortunately, local government was all behind this, from the governor to mayor of New Orleans to the city council. It was a 'go'. It would have killed the ambiance of the old French Quarter, overpowering it with noisy traffic and exhaust fumes. The preservationist worked hard to kill the project, even against pro-expressway local media (newspaper and TV). Preservationists worked the streets and the voice of opposition grew.

One man stopped everything… cold. US Secretary of the Transportation John Volpe shocked everyone by killing the project. He just said no. He invoked Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, declaring the expressway would do irreversible damage to the historic French Quarter – which is what the preservationists argued.

In retrospect, some of the local politicians declared they had been wrong. Former mayor Moon Landrieu (father of recent mayor Mitch Landrieu and former US Senator Mary Landrieu), who was on the city council at the time, looked back and wondered what the hell he was thinking.

The stupidity was stopped by New Orleans preservationists and John Volpe.

Information from:

That's all for now.



  1. O'Neil, you're lucky it ended the way it did. L.A. deals with similar issues, but we (largely) keep destroying our past, and some of it was pretty cool. I guess we should be grateful for any and all victories.

    I also found the other newspaper articles/headlines really interesting. Definitely a trip to the past.

  2. OK. I already saw my mistake. John Volpe was the US Secretary of Transportation, not Treasury.

  3. Sometimes the good guys do win.

    I enjoyed your latest story in Ellery Queen. A neat piece of work!

  4. You know, I remember the days when sometimes someone with sense was in high office, and did something for the good of the country - or a city.

  5. Interesting piece, O’Neil. Paul is right about LA. This town eats itself alive. Volpe is a rarity-a politician who didnt side with big money.

  6. Thanks for the comments. Glad you liked the story Janice. Glad Janet Hutchings liked it too.

  7. My mother was tiny but a huge proponent of historical preservation. I picked up some of those genes too.

    Cincinnati strikes me as an example of a small city destroyed by 'modernization'. Once called the San Francisco of the Midwest, it nestled amongst beautiful hills above the Ohio River. Then came skyscrapers blocking sunlight, clogging the town with cars and smog. Singage and condos took over the green hills. Strip malls grabbed ever strip of free land. Interstates whipped city workers in and out as fast as possible. One city, ruined.

    I expect that disinterest in Florida, but not Cincinnati and certainly not New Orleans. Yay for Volpe!

  8. My wife and I are from the Pacific Northwest, but we have love New Orleans since we first visited NOLA after I was force marched to an event at the Morial convention center in the 1990s. The thought that the French Quarter could have been cut off from the Mississippi by a freeway is terrible.

  9. O'Neil, nice historical article. I also enjoyed your story, "Sac-a-lait Man in EQMM. Brings out a lot of the New Orleans flavor.


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