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Deluge of Roadwork Repairs Water Damaged Arteries in La.

Mon November 17, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Kerry Lynn Kirby

First the water rushed in, flooding the streets. Then it sat there for weeks, adding to the roadways’ vulnerability to damage from the heavy equipment that would roar in to New Orleans and its environs to clean up the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Now, due to a federally funded effort dubbed the South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program, work is winding up on the first group of jobs on a still-growing list of projects to undo Katrina-related damage.

New Orleans-based Boh Bros. Construction Co. LLC started work on the first group, consisting of three street segments, on April 21 and was expected to be completed by Oct. 15 but was pushed back a little by Hurricane Gustav. The job was then set to wind up Nov. 10, said Stephen Alexander, field project manager for Boh Bros.

The $150 million program, which began in 2007, is funding qualified road repair and resurfacing projects in five eligible parishes (the equivalent of counties) in southern Louisiana — Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany — that were impacted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and HNTB Corp.

Phase A of the program includes 56 street repair projects in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, according to Bill Koutnik, resident engineer of New Orleans-based HNTB Corp., which was contracted to co-manage the program with Louisiana DOTD.

Phase A projects are being divided into 17 groups of two to 10 roadway segments, with each group being bid individually through the state’s standard low-bidder process, said Larry Blazek, program manager for HNTB Corp.

The program is being funded by the Federal Highway Administration, Blazek said, and is restricted to off-system federal aid roadways, or “arterial system roads,” that belong to cities and parishes in the five eligible parishes.

“Predominantly, the work that we’re doing here is rehabbing the existing roadways to bring them back to pre-Katrina condition — patching, mill and overlay,” he said. “Hot mix is a major item of work.”

Those roadways got a one-two punch that together led to damage including base failures, pavement structure failures and noticeably impacted ridability, Blazek said.

On Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina’s storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging 80 percent of the city.

What left the streets in such bad shape was the city “being inundated by water for an extended period of time” then “a lot of heavy equipment traveling over saturated, subgrade roads creating damage” on top of the damage from the storm surge, Blazek said.

Boh Bros.’s contract covers 1.673 mi. (2.7 km) of Marconi Drive, 0.675 mi. (1 km) of Crowder Boulevard and 1.049 mi. (1.7 km) of a road called Whitney Avenue or L.B. Landry Avenue, depending on where in the stretch it is, Koutnik said.

The work — coming in at just below $4 million — has included concrete patching, concrete curb work, asphalt patching, asphalt overlay and manhole rehab work, said Alexander.

Roughly 15,500 tons (14,000 t) of asphalt have been used throughout the whole project, he said.

There have been a few subcontractors on the jobs, Alexander said.

“Auguillard Construction did asphalt patching on Crowder Road; Highway Technologies installed all our signs for the project; Bayou Tree Service did our tree trimming; and Pavement Markings did our pavement striping,” he said.

Heavy equipment on the job has included backhoes, excavators, cold planers, spreaders and sweepers, most owned by Boh Bros., Alexander said.

There was some rental equipment on site, Alexander said. “When we rent, we do so from Louisiana Machinery,” he said.

While no special conditions were encountered on the job, the first group of jobs featured extensive handicap ramp work, Alexander said.

“We removed and replaced over 100 handicap ramps on this project. Most of them on Whitney Avenue,” he said.

In addition to rehabbing the streets to pre-Katrina condition, the federal funding mandates bringing the roadways into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Koutnik said.

That involves curb work to current ADA standards at intersections where there is sidewalk, he said.

Work on the next group of jobs is expected to get started in December or January, Koutnik said.

Other groups identified for the program are in various stages of the design phase, Blazek said.

Gustav Cuts In

Hurricane Gustav impacted progress on the Phase A jobs in several ways, including flooding Boh Bros.’ asphalt plant and requiring repairs on some Group 1 work, as well as knocking out electrical power in the city and thus holding up design work on other Phase A projects, Blazek said.

Phase A’s projects are expected to be completed in January 2011, he said, and they are looking at additional roadway segments now for Phase B.

It could grow to a total of about 90 mi. (145 km) of roadway under the program, Koutnik said, though how much ends up being completed depends on how well the program does managing costs.

“Ultimately, there is a finite pot of money. We want to get as many roads done as possible,” he said.

That’s why the concept of “value engineering” is vital to the program, because its common-sense approach to planning and executing the jobs minimizes wasted time, materials and, ultimately, money, he explained.

One element of value engineering in the program is the use of a Superpave-type asphalt — typically used by the state but not the cities or parishes — because of the strength they can get out of a 2-in. (5 cm) layer, Koutnik said.

Because you don’t need to use as much, it’s more cost efficient, he said.

The aim is to avoid down time, wasted time and duplicated work, all of which cost money, Koutnik said.

For example, putting a curb head on concrete patching instead of the original plan of reconstructing curbs separately cut the cost of curb work in half, he said.

Staging the project with schedules coordinated around festivals and other events that would impact work is another example, said Koutnik, noting timing can make a big difference in keeping the project moving.

One of the groups in Phase A features 10 road segments in New Orleans’ central business district that will be worked on at night, when there isn’t traffic to deal with, so as to expedite the schedule, he said.

Grouping jobs geographically is another time- and cost-saving approach because it streamlines mobilization of workers and equipment, Koutnik said.

Using cross-trained inspectors with expertise in multiple disciplines to watch several different roadway segments simultaneously is yet another way to maximize efficiency.

Coordination with all area utilities is extremely important, so they don’t go in and dig up roads again after work is completed, Koutnik said.

That’s part of an overall effort to bring all potentially involved parties into the process — from brainstorming meetings with the Asphalt Paving Association to a formal collaboration with the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission.

“It’s really a synergistic approach,” Koutnik said.

Motorists encountered just slight delays and minor detours during the first group of projects, which is winding to a close, he said.

“There has been extremely positive feedback from residents and the traveling public on the quality of the finished roadways,” Koutnik said.

The program’s broader goal, he said, is to “help the people of New Orleans come back and rebuild their homes, businesses and neighborhoods. The program is crucial to the complete recovery of New Orleans.”

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