Hollywood Road Headache: Construction causing problems in area neighborhood

Already the bane of businesses and motorists due to delays and restricted access, the widening of Houma’s South Hollywood Road is having additional effects, on residents of a small, barely-noticeable subdivision.

“We now know what it is to feel multiple mini-earthquakes,” said Susan Rhodes, a retired bank employee who lives with her husband Doug, on Imperial Drive, a once-quiet, tree-shaded road lined with handsome wood-frame ranch houses boasting neat brick facades.

They and other residents on the east side of Imperial Drive have suffered the roar of heavy equipment, destruction of trashed culvert segments, blowing dust from massive dirt dunes and other indignities less than 20 feet from their landscaped back yards, on property that is the designated “lay-down” area for the project. Those closest to the area have complained of concrete on driveways cracking.

A “lay-down” in construction parlance is an area that is cleared for temporary storage of equipment and supplies. In this case, the lay-down is at the far western end of a former golf course. Its use, parish officials said, is governed by a contract between the builder, New Jersey-based Conti Group, and the owners of the golf course property.

The Imperial Drive residents say they were never consulted, and had no idea that steamrollers and other heavy equipment would be rumbling close enough to shake their walls. Had they known, they said, they would have asked that the lay-down area be moved farther away.

Attempts by The Times to reach two attorneys said to be associated with the property, Grady Weeks and William Stark, were not successful.

The Rhodes and other residents have pleaded their case to the on-site project engineer, a police officer and Terrebonne Parish officials, but have received no indications that anything will – or can – be done to address them.

At the edge of his property line, Doug Rhodes pointed out the heavy equipment parked steps away, mocking the symmetry of his orange, grapefruit and fig trees, lamenting loss of sleep and a rise in stress. That the project now runs 24-hours per day, an attempt to overcome weather delays accepted on pain of otherwise violating its contract, has caused more difficulty.

“I have had to double my dose of blood pressure medicine,” said Rhodes, an 81-year-old retired Texaco gauger. “I worked all my life to pay for this. And this is what I am having to deal with, somebody trying to destroy it.”

Jeanne Bray, director of engineering for the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government, said the selection of the lay-down site does not involve the parish.

“The contractor enters in, he gets the job, he bids and at some point when he starts knowing what he wants to do, contracts larger landowners,” Bray said. “He negotiates a direct contract with that landowner for a stockpile area.”

The only restrictions on lay areas is that they need a permit to burn anything, which specifices distances from homes.

Roy Payne, the project engineer, said he has spoken with the Imperial Drive families, but was able to offer little comfort, echoing what Bray had already disclosed.

“I told them that there are separate agreements between the contractor and the property owner,” Payne said.

Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove said Saturday morning that he is concerned about the residents’ plight, and that he has his staff checking on feasible ways to meet their concerns. Parish Councilman Darrin Guidry has also sought to intercede, but found that options are minimal.

“As soon as I was elected I started getting that contract rolling,” Dove said. “We needed to get more people or subcontractors, to work on drainage.”

The South Hollywood project has been rife with problems from the outset, when it was developed under a state-local partnership during Michel Claudet’s term.

Work was slated to begin in early 2014, but was delayed when AT&T failed to move equipment from the stretch, which runs from Martin Luther King extending from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and La. Highway 311. Work didn’t actually begin until August 2014.Work stalled again when crews also discovered old, abandoned natural gas lines. The object of the project is to add roughly 19 feet to either side of the road, enabling new travel lanes.

But the time factor was compounded by weather and other situations causing delays. With every day of construction bringing grief in one form or another, Dove’s priority upon election had to be lighting a fire under the job.

And so, with no relief in sight, residents try to cope.

“I called the cops and told them big, old, heavy equipment is shaking our houses, all these pipes are getting laid here,” said Ronnie Boudreaux, a retired Trapp Chevrolet salesman who is now a musician.

“Big old heavy equipment is shaking our houses, all these pipes are in the back of our houses, they are putting them in dump trucks. And they work day and night. They got a permit to work 24 hours.”

He paid a visit to a site superintendent.

“He said ‘it’s too bad,’ Boudreaux related. “It’s very aggravating not to sit on your patio and have peace and quiet. They should have had a meeting with us. I had some cracks already but the cracks got bigger. I lost some of the mortar on my bricks.”

What Boudreaux, Rhodes and other property owners know is that for now there is no way for them to escape the mess the Hollywood Road is putting them in, and that for now they can just wait.

“I don’t feel like I am living in the U.S.A.,” Rhodes said. “I feel like I am living in Russia.” •

Hollywood Road Headache