Will The Opening Of The New NOLA Airport Be The Death-Knell For JBE’s Re-Election Hopes?

One would be hard-pressed to see Nov. 6 as anything but the beginning of the end for John Bel Edwards given what we know about the situation involving access roads to the New Orleans International Airport’s new terminal now set to open on that date.

Nov. 6 is 10 days before the gubernatorial runoff election in which Edwards is polling at 47 percent, tied with Eddie Rispone and increasingly likely to lose.

Edwards can’t afford a major public snafu so close to the election, but it’s difficult to see how the new airport opening won’t be just that.

The address for the new terminal is 1 Terminal Drive in Kenner. Starting Nov. 6, all flights will operate from there. The current terminal will close to the public after the switch, the airport has said in a news release.

A big difference is drivers will no longer use Airline Drive to access the airport. Instead, they will use Loyola Drive to get to the new access road.

Here are the directions from airport officials for how to get to the new terminal:

From Interstate 10:

Exit I-10 at exit 221 (Loyola Drive). Turn toward Veterans Boulevard. Cross over Veterans Boulevard onto the airport access roadway. Once on the access road, follow signage to the appropriate location.

From surface roads:

Drive to the new terminal’s main entrance at Loyola Drive and Veterans Boulevard. Turn onto the airport access road.

A flyover connecting Interstate 10 to the new terminal won’t be complete for years, and until then drivers will have to take surface streets.

As our readers well know, the reason there’s no flyover ramp at the Loyola Drive exit and won’t be for years – until late 2022 or early 2023, at best – is that Edwards and his Department of Transportation and Development never bothered to get one built. The airport terminal went under construction in 2016, Edwards’ first year. Edwards did nothing.

We would have bet the farm that the new terminal’s opening would have been delayed past the election. We still wouldn’t bet against that; until the thing actually opens there’s always the chance they’ll delay it again.

And why? Because when that airport opens the traffic jam it will cause on I-10 is going to be legendary.

If you’re coming from New Orleans or Metairie, to get to this airport you are going to have to get off I-10 at the Loyola Drive exit and fight through THREE traffic lights before you’ll be able to hit the access road. If you’re coming from LaPlace or Baton Rouge or other points west, you’ll have two.

You could maybe get off I-10 at the Williams Blvd. exit and then turn right onto Veterans Hwy., then take a left onto tiny Bainbridge Street, which is currently a two-lane road and so far as we know is going to stay that way, into the airport. But that’s also fighting through at least three lights – possibly four.

And that Loyola Drive/Veterans Highway intersection, which is going to become one of the most chaotic bottlenecks in all of America, is the only way into the airport.

Currently, you can use Airline Highway to get to the “old” terminal. A good third of the traffic coming into the airport uses that route in. If you’re coming from the west, taking the I-310 exit from I-10 to Airline Highway and coming into the airport is one of the most convenient ways into a major airport there is. But that’s all gone come Nov. 6.

As we understand it, what you’ll be able to do from Airline Highway is park in the garage they’ll still have, which is going to become long-term parking, and then take a bus which will leave the airport property and take Airline Highway to Williams Boulevard to Veterans Highway to Bainbridge Street into the new terminal. If that isn’t a 30-minute bus ride into the teeth of that traffic we’ll be shocked.

Let’s recognize that there is currently a flyover at the Williams exit taking people straight into the airport, and Williams is a traffic bottleneck even with the ability to use Airline Highway as a back way in. There are no lights anyone has to fight through from that flyover until you get to the airport property.

Now there will be at least two or three.

What’s going to happen is that traffic will back up at the Loyola Drive exit, and it will back up into the right lane on I-10, both eastbound and westbound. And that traffic will spill beyond the right lane, because people will not just sit in the right lane – they’ll be in the middle lane trying to cut into the right lane to get to the exit, and that will back up the entire interstate not to mention resulting in road rage when people waiting in the right lane see people attempting to cut in front of them.

And how far back this will go is going to be a fun question. It will back up traffic at least as far as the Williams exit and quite possibly to the Veterans exit, which would essentially mean all of Kenner will be a parking lot. When things get really bad it might even go further.

And on the eastbound side it is by no means unreasonable to think this will back traffic up well onto the Bonnet Carre Spillway, and possibly all the way to LaPlace. Spillway traffic on I-10 routinely slows to a crawl as it is now; let that right lane back up on what is a two-lane road eastbound and you’ll easily have a parking lot on your hands.

And that parking lot on the interstate will be brought to you by one John Bel Edwards. And it will be 10 days solid of it, with no particular relief in sight for at least three years, staring the people of the New Orleans area in the face until the election, which will be the first real opportunity for the public to express their opinion of the mess they’re experiencing.

Baton Rouge area people will be able to escape some of this. We can just use the Baton Rouge airport instead of this new monstrosity. It’ll cost more and there are a lot fewer direct flights (if the Baton Rouge airport guys are really on the ball they’ll promise the moon to Southwest Airlines just to get a couple of flights to Houston and Atlanta every day, because those will be jammed full of passengers), but avoiding that traffic mess for the next three years will be worth it. Of course, that traffic will stink just as badly if you’re just trying to drive to New Orleans; you’ll get used to getting off I-10 at the LaPlace exit and fighting Airline Highway into town for a while.

But if you live in Jefferson Parish, which went for Edwards in the primary by a 53 percent margin, you won’t be able to escape it. You won’t be able to use I-10 for much of anything, and because it will be a parking lot pretty much the whole way through Kenner you’ll now be on surface streets that will be a lot more crowded. Get used to West Esplanade and West Metairie and Airline Highway being a lot worse than normal, and remember who’s responsible.

The shock of all this is going to be fresh in the minds of everybody when they go to the polls on Nov. 16, and 10 days on the rage is likely to set in. Somebody will have to pay for it, and it’s hard to see how that won’t be John Bel Edwards.

We’re just flabbergasted they’re opening this airport 10 days before the runoff. Unless everything we know about New Orleans traffic is wrong, this is going to be an abject mess and a political nightmare for the governor.

But while none of this is acceptable, at least there is a little bit of justice to it. If Edwards swings on the petard of airport traffic, at least we’ll know it’s his own petard. Maybe with that billion dollars of tax hike money he could have put some into the most urgent road project in the state before it blew up in his face.

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