As La. Highway 1 in southern Lafourche Parish reopened to traffic following a three-day closure for Hurricane Isaac, Americans should breathe a sigh of relief that the fragile two-lane highway escaped permanent damage from the persistent wind and storm surge that accompanied the storm’s landfall on Aug. 29.
The economic consequences for the nation would likely have been devastating.
LA 1 is America’s energy corridor. Providing the only road access to Port Fourchon, the highway supports 90 percent of the Gulf of Mexico’s deepwater production and up to 18 percent of America’s total energy supply. It is also the only evacuation route for thousands of offshore workers and port staff, and for residents and tourists in Grand Isle, who all relied on LA 1 to safely evacuate in advance of Hurricane Isaac.
And yet, the vulnerable at-grade 7.1-mile section of highway between Golden Meadow and Leeville faces increased risk of inundation and destruction by storm events, subsidence, and sea level rise. The highway suffered a 78-hour closure this week as the storm surge from Category 1 Hurricane Isaac approached and then overtopped the roadway, and a 61-hour closure due to flooding from Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. According to NOAA, mean sea level rise will cause road closures along this section of LA 1 90 or more consecutive days per year by the year 2030, and a powerful storm could result in a 90-day loss of highway access even earlier.
The national economic significance of such a loss of LA 1 is staggering. A July 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concluded that a 90-day closure of Port Fourchon as a result of a loss of the 7.1 miles of existing at-grade LA 1 between Golden Meadow and Leeville could result in a reduction of up to $7.8 billion in American gross domestic product. Domestic oil and gas production would also be significantly impacted for 10 years following such a closure.
Recognizing the importance of securing LA 1, the State of Louisiana, Lafourche Parish, the Greater Lafourche Port Commission and the LA 1 Coalition have been working to gain federal funding to build a two-lane elevated highway between the Golden Meadow floodgates and the new Tomey Doucet Overpass in Leeville, a $320 million plan known as Phase 2 of the LA 1 Improvement Project.
NOAA, in fact, has applauded the local community’s leadership in addressing adaptive and resiliency measures for this nationally significant infrastructure.
However, despite the role LA 1 plays in this nation’s energy and economic security, the federal government has not yet made a funding commitment for Phase 2, and has denied the State of Louisiana matching funds for the project in three recent federal transportation grant programs.
This has been frustrating, especially after the president traveled vulnerable LA 1 by car twice within the last two years and saw first-hand the condition of LA 1. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NOAA issued reports respectively on the national significance and vulnerability of LA 1, yet the federal government has not made securing this highway for the nation’s long-term energy sustainability a priority.
What other 7.1 mile stretch of highway in the nation poses a $7.8 billion vulnerability to National Gross Domestic Product if it is washed out? None. Even Congress understands this small strip of highway’s importance, designating it one of only 64 High Priority Corridors in the country, and the only one designated for its role as critical energy infrastructure.
As a result of Hurricane Isaac, almost 95 percent of daily oil production and nearly 72 percent of daily natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico was shut down.
According to AAA, gasoline prices rose 2.2 cents per gallon in the wake of the storm in part because of fears of Hurricane Isaac’s impacts. Getting workers and supplies back to Port Fourchon and the Gulf so production can begin again will rely on the access provided by reopening the recently flooded LA 1.
Now, yet again, our nation’s ability to bring back on-line the vast energy reserves in the U.S Gulf of Mexico has been delayed because our coastal access highway to America’s busiest intermodal energy port was flooded. The impact of higher energy prices with this prolonged road closure will no doubt impact every family in America.
More information about LA 1 and the LA 1 Improvement Project can be found online at www.LA1Coalition.org.