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La. 1 Gets a Lift With Billion Dollar Project

Mon July 30, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Maura Bohart

There are a few things Americans are very protective of — life, liberty, safety and oil. Louisiana Route 1 is important for all of these.

The LA 1 Coalition’s Web site says, “La. 1 highway and our proposed replacement bridge is, in every way, a lifeline to the Louisiana coast.”

That’s why three projects are currently under way to improve the energy corridor: phases 1A, 1B and 1C.

Robert DeLouche of Traylor Bros., which is working on two phases of the project, explained how the different parts of the project are connected.

“If you were driving on the 1B project and you came from the north connector, and you didn’t have 1C, you’d drive straight into the bayou. If you could jump across that bayou, you’d be on the south part of the 1B project. Then you would go south all the way down to the end and you’d be on project 1A, which finishes the road at Port Fourchon.”

Phase 1A

Phase 1A began in September 2007. James Construction Group LLC of Baton Rouge, La., won the $137 million contract. Their mission is to keep a 5.4 mi. (8.7 km) stretch of road between Leeville and La. 3090 out of flood waters by elevating it 22.5 ft. (6.9 m) above the ground.

The new highway will be 40 ft. (12.2 m) wide with two 12-ft. (3.7 m) lanes and two 8-ft. (2.4 m) shoulders. It’s scheduled for completion in 2011.

To protect the fish, hermit crabs and other Louisiana marsh critters, top-down construction is being used instead of temporary haul roads and canals. The contractor builds a temporary steel structure made of steel pilings, steel beams and other steel material, and heavy equipment is driven onto that structure instead of being driven over the marsh, where it would disrupt the delicate ecosystem.

The contractor then builds a piece of the concrete structure, takes down the temporary steel structure, and moves on to the next portion of the bridge.

So what type of equipment does this type of construction use?

“Equipment utilized to build both the temporary structure and the permanent structure will be three cranes,” explained Gary Gisclair, project manager of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. “The first crane will drive temporary steel pilings and hang steel girders. The second crane will build the permanent concrete bridge structure below the temporary steel structure. The third crane will remove the temporary steel structure on the back-end, and forward the pilings and girder to the first crane building the temporary steel structure in the front.”

Phase 1B

Phase 1B is helping to connect La. 1 to the world. It was let for $141.4 million and work began in March 2006. Traylor Bros. Inc. is performing the joint venture with Massman Construction Co. to replace 4.4 mi. (7.1 km) of mainline bridge approaches for the bridge at Leeville.

Phase 1B also builds two connector bridges: a north connector and a south connector to connect the existing La. 1 roadway to the new La. 1 relocated mainline bridge. This should make the road convenient to access.

The special provisions of the contract require all concrete to meet certain low permeability requirements. The mix designs were tested by Louisiana Transportation Research Center in accordance with AASHTO T277 and ASTM C1202 before being approved.

“Structures in the past have had the reinforcing steel rust away in the structure, lowering the service life of the structure,” Gisclair said. “This can be seen on several local concrete structures built years ago, with no requirement for permeability testing. The reinforcing steel rusts and enlarges, and causes concrete to spall off the structures, especially on the lower side.”

The bridge, which is located in a marsh with a high salt content, would have been at a high risk for this type of rust problem had the DOT not required concrete with low permeability. The requirements stated in the special provisions were: Max. 2000 Coulombs above the elevation of 6.5, Max. 1000 Coulombs below elevation of 6.5.

Phase 1C

Phase 1C began in June 2006 and was let for $20.2 million to Traylor Bros. and Massman. They are removing the old bridge over Bayou LaFourche at Leeville and replacing it with a safer, wider fixed high-level bridge.

Some have called this bridge the most vulnerable area of the project.

Phases 1D to 4

There are several phases of the project that have not yet been let.

Phase 1D will include a toll road and intelligent transportation systems and will cost approximately $3 million to $4 million.

Phases 2, 3 and 4 are still in the planning stage, but will include construction of a second two-lane elevated roadway from Leeville to Port Fourchon and construction of two elevated roadways on the 9.5 mi. (15.3 km) stretch from Leeville north to Golden Meadow.

The complete project will construct or reconstruct a total of 18 mi. (29 km) of La. 1 at a cost of approximately $1.3 billion.

High-Priority Corridor

The project is very important for Louisiana. In December 2001, Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Billy Tauzin got the highway added to a federal list of “high-priority corridors.”

La. 1 is the only emergency escape route for approximately 35,000 people, including south Louisiana residents and 6,000 offshore workers, who would be left with no road to escape on if a flood immersed the highway, a plausible scenario for a ground-level road that cuts through a marsh. Ambulances also would have no way to enter.

The only emergency escape route also is the only everyday commuting route for approximately 10,000 vehicles that travel down a 30 mi. (48.3 km) stretch each day. Driving on La. 1 can be a road-rage-inducing experience. Commuters travel approximately 30 percent slower than the posted speed limit on average, according to a Louisiana State University study.

One thousand of these are cargo trucks. The impact of all that weight, combined with coastal land loss is the cause of the sinking road. A federal study projects an 80 percent increase in truck traffic on La. 1 over the next decade, which will worsen the problem.

“It is hard to impress the significance of the volume of industrial trucks traveling the La. 1 road system,” DeLouche said.

The study also showed that 98 percent of the highway needs some type of improvement. The unsafe roads, damaged by previous floods, are slowly sinking into the marshes below. If conditions continue to worsen, drivers may find themselves eye-to-eye with the hermit crabs if there is a major flood.

“The road is capable of going underwater in stormy conditions,” said Robert DeLouche of Traylor Bros.

Because the roads are in bad repair and have heavy traffic, La. 1 has twice as many deadly accidents as similar roadways, according to LA 1 Coalition, a nonprofit corporation composed of residents and industry leaders. The organization has worked since 1998 to advocate improvements for La. 1.

“You have a roadway that looks like a snake,” explained DeLouche, “so you have a lot of corners that are sharp for the speeds people are driving and there are a tremendous number of industrial vehicles. Many are over length and over width. When they drive on the road, which happens all the time, there is no place for the traveling public to go. They try to go around the commercial trucks, which is dangerous, because the road isn’t wide enough. Also, there’s nowhere to pull to the side of the road. If an commercial truck gets a flat tire and he pulls over to the right-hand side, he’s going to sink, because there’s nothing around him except marsh.”

The area’s role in energy also is critical. That makes Port Fourchon, with its hundreds of platforms and its many deepwater projects, a vital energy center. Approximately 16 to 18 percent of the nation’s oil and natural gas pass through Port Fourchon, which can only be accessed by La. 1.

A Corps of Engineers’ study projects that 58 percent of all Louisiana offshore drilling over the next 30 years will be in Port Fourchon’s service area. This is largely because Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the nation’s only offshore oil port, pipes its oil to a pumping station in Port Fourchon.

The straighter roads also will be more fuel-efficient.

“La. 1 is important in every way a road can be important,” said Johnny Bradberry, secretary of the DOTD. “Without La. 1, there is no economic development in south Lafourche Parish or Grand Isle. Without La. 1, there is no evacuation route. Without La. 1, there is no meaningful oil and gas industry. Without La. 1, there is no seafood industry. That is why we are spending so much time and money to upgrade this flood-prone, two-lane road and bridge. Mile-for-mile, it’s one of the most important routes in the country.” CEG

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