Hurricane Barry Shows Need for Elevated La. 1 Progress

Christy Alley Naquin | Executive Director, South Central Industrial Association
August 22, 2019
Brown & Brown Insurance | A Q&A With Christian Lapeyre
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Christy Alley Naquin | Executive Director, South Central Industrial Association
August 22, 2019
Brown & Brown Insurance | A Q&A With Christian Lapeyre
August 22, 2019

Thankfully, Hurricane Barry was pretty much a non-event locally with gusty winds and rains causing impacts mostly to just the most vulnerable and flood prone areas of Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes.

But he also served as a lesson to lawmakers — living proof that even the storms that don’t hit the area directly can cause big problems to La. Highway 1 south of flood protection areas — the only artery we have to get to Port Fourchon.

La. Highway 1 in south Golden Meadow and Leeville closed for 41 hours during the storm — a total which cost the local economy close to $1 billion, per estimates. Previous studies show that $22 million in sales are lost every hour that the road is closed.

Henri Boulet the Executive Director of the La. 1 Coalition said storms like Barry help show the nation the need for the completion of the La. Highway 1 Elevation Project, which would elevate the highway to bypass low-lying, unprotected areas and give the area access to Port Fourchon.

Plans are in place to continue work on the project, but further funding sources are going to have to come from the federal level.

“Incidents like Barry don’t hurt the cause,” Boulet said.

The idea for an elevated La. Highway 1 is decades in the making.

The highway has long been vulnerable during storm-related events due to coastal erosion, which took away the state’s natural buffer from storm surge. Now, in southern Lafourche, there is nothing to deflect surge except the road, which overtops during weather events.

In 2001, Congress recognized La. 1 as a “high priority corridor,” which started the ball rolling toward the the project we see today.

By 2004, permits were completed and by 2006, construction began on Phases 1B, 1C and 1D of the project — a two-lane overpass at Leeville, interchanges and toll facility.

A year later, construction began on Phase 1A of the La. 1 Project — a two-lane elevated highway between Leeville and Port Fourchon.

In 2009, the Leeville Overpass was completed and opened. By 2011, the new, 5.8-mile Phase 1A was completed, elevating the highway between Leeville to Port Fourchon.

But now, the next step for further progress is Phase 2, which would connect Leeville to Golden Meadow — a project which will cost roughly $340 million, per estimates.

Funding for the project has been hard to come by, but recently, the state went a long way in securing La. 1’s future, dedicating $150 million to the elevation project as part of a bill aimed to fund several infrastructure projects.

That bill was penned by local Rep. Tanner Magee, who said La. 1 was vital to the entire state of Louisiana.

“We have to protect the future of La. 1 and of Port Fourchon,” Magee said when his bill was being discussed. “This is vital to our people.”

Now, Boulet and others hope the Federal Government does its part to match that $150 million given by the state.

If that happens, $40 million would be left needed, and Boulet said those funds would be sought from private donors in the oil and gas industry.

“The state will apply for federal funds for the project,” Boulet said. “No exact time frame is known for this, as USDOT has not yet published a Notice of Funding Availability on their next round of large highway grants.”

Despite the lack of a known timetable, Boulet said he and others are hopeful that the federal government buys in.

“We believe so, although nothing is guaranteed when you are relying on a federal award from a competitive grant program,” Boulet said. “The Coalition will be supporting our state in every way we can on the grant request, and we know the port and parish will be doing the same.”

And surely, events like Barry are good, real-life lessons state officials can take to Washington to show that, yes, the demand here is real, and yes, our area needs this project for future economic sustainability.

“(Storms like Barry) do show the urgency of the need to adapt our infrastructure,” Boulet said. “Financial impacts of prolonged port closures caused by road inaccessibility are felt by federal, state and local governments and this is one reason we are hoping governments at all levels will continue to partner in achieving the La. 1 Project.•