1984 World's Fair Monorail

When planning the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition (LWE), fair and city officials decided to build a monorail system. This project had two objectives. First, it was intended to move many visitors so as to limit traffic congestion in the Warehouse and Downtown districts directly adjacent to the fair. Second, this advanced transportation infrastructure was supposed to stay in New Orleans as a tribute to modernity. Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial had hoped to build a line down the middle of Poydras Street to connect the new Convention Center to the Superdome. The city wanted to repeat the successful conversion of the Seattle World’s Fair monorail into permanent transit infrastructure.

When the Reagan administration refused to fund the monorail, the city decided to build it on the 80-acre riverfront site of the fair. Six companies bid, and the contract was awarded to Universal Mobility Inc., a Salt-Lake City company which had built 8 other monorail systems in North America. New Orleans’ system was a $15 million, 1.4 mile rubber-tired monorail based on the Straddle - Steel Box Beam technology. Introduced in the 1960s, this technology is still used.

Three elevated stations were designed by Charles Sanders of Perez and Associates Architecture Company. The New York Times advised that “the silent, elegant monorail will loop everywhere, diving at points into buildings.” The ten car, 146 passenger monorail circled the Exposition counterclockwise. It reached speeds of 10 miles per hour and took 12 minutes to complete the trip. One of the transit stations hosted a local television news broadcast center, which allowed live coverage of the fair.

Several plans were considered for the subsequent use of the monorail system. Allan Eskew, the main architect of the fair, proposed to give it to Audubon Park or City Park to move the public within their grounds. Later, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) announced that that they were interested in purchasing the monorail to install it in the center of Poydras Street, as previously envisioned by the Mayor Morial administration. The federal money that RTA had traditionally used to buy transit equipment could not be used to buy monorail systems, and the RTA failed to raise private money to fund the project.

Unfortunately, the fair did not attract the 11 million visitors that the LWE officials had expected, so the fair left a $102 million debt. The LWE had to file for bankruptcy and could not pay its contractors. Universal Mobility sued Petr Spurney and Floyd Lewis, respectively president and chairman of the Louisiana World Exposition. In a 1985 hearing, the US District Judge ruled that LWE officials were not personally responsible for the debts. The assets of the LWE were auctioned in 1985, including the monorail and its three elevated stations.

Images

1984 Louisiana World Exposition map

1984 Louisiana World Exposition map

The route of the monorail is featured in black. Guidebook map published by Picayune Publishing, courtesy of the Times Picayune View File Details Page

Proposed Monorail on Poydras Street, 1981

Proposed Monorail on Poydras Street, 1981

Mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial 's administration invested a good deal of attention towards transportation planning. City Planning Department pamphlet View File Details Page

LWE monorail passes over the space shuttle Enterprise

LWE monorail passes over the space shuttle Enterprise

Courtesy of J. Douglas Fogg View File Details Page

Aerial view of the 1984 Louisiana World's Fair

Aerial view of the 1984 Louisiana World's Fair

Courtesy of J. Douglas Fogg View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Romain Cheynet, “1984 World's Fair Monorail,” New Orleans Historical, accessed April 26, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/541.
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