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New Orleans Builds New Trails

Wed March 07, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Construction that will add new lakefront walking and bicycle paths in New Orleans’ Jefferson Parish is about to get underway in Louisiana. The project, which also calls for improvements to an existing path, is expected to be completed by the end of spring.

Director of Jefferson Parish Public Works, Mark Drewes, explained, “Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the Lake Pontchartrain Lakefront provided the residents of Jefferson Parish and adjacent communities a 10.6 mi. (16 km) stretch of unfettered recreational area. The lakefront was easily accessible and could be traversed along a continuous bicycle/pedestrian path. Although Hurricane Katrina only inflicted minor damage to the lakefront path, subsequent construction of vital flood protection improvements basically closed significant portions of the lakefront for the past five years.

“Restoration of the entire lakefront bicycle/pedestrian path along with completion of the Parish’s $1M project to add rest stops and separate pedestrian pathways will give this treasure back to the community, with a statement that the quality of life in Jefferson Parish is better than prior to Katrina.”

Construction should begin in early to mid-March. Design was performed in-house by the Jefferson Parish Engineering Department with the assistance of the Regional Planning Commission and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. According to Josh Gunn, general manager of general contractor Three C’s Properties Inc., location is the main hurdle.

“The biggest challenge will be getting our trucks and equipment over the levee, because it’s pretty steep and we will be working at the foot of it. We have to get everything up and over in order to perform construction on the other side of the levee, so we will probably have to put in some temporary roads with limestone. Levee access to the job site will be our number-one priority. It is, without question, our first obstacle and our biggest. I can’t stress that enough. Putting in access roads so that our crews can get over and around the area safely also will be key.”

According to Gunn, creating a new walking and bike trail next to the existing path at the base of the levee will require plowing out the existing dirt at a depth of 11-in. (28 cm).

“We will place six inches of stone and five inches of asphalt for three miles. We’re basically talking about digging out dirt, putting in stone and asphalt so that people have a safe new place to walk and ride.”

Three C’s Properties will use a variety of equipment, including a Cat dozer; a Cat excavator to load the dirt; and asphalt trucks, rollers to compact the stone, pavers and dump trucks. Gunn explained that safety will be a top priority.

“The weight of our equipment is very important. It can’t be real heavy because we won’t be able to get over the levee and provide the support needed. A lot of the area where we will be working is in portions where new levees just finished construction after Katrina. Our construction will be at the foot, but we don’t want to cause any damage. We want to leave everything as it was before we stepped in. That’s something we will go to great lengths to ensure,” Gunn stated.

As for other concerns, said Gunn, “The temperature won’t be a problem, but rain could definitely be an issue. We will be digging down and have a trench filled with rock and will be dealing with asphalt. I imagine every now and then we’ll have to cut some holes in the side of the trench so that the water can get out and the area will stay dry. As for the existing trail, there are some pieces that are broken up which are considered part of this project. Maybe a thousand feet of revamping is involved where it’s cracked and broken, so we will have to repair that as well, although we don’t see it as a significant issue.

“What’s different,” added Gunn, “is that the area we’ll be working on is not on top, but at the bottom of the levee, so we’ll have more room. The limits of construction are roughly 12 feet across with about ten feet of actual space and a foot on either side for the shoulders. What’s great is that when everything is finished, people can walk and bike freely, and that’s a very good thing.”

The construction cost is $907,977 which will be funded with 80 percent Federal Highway Administration HP demo funds and a 20 percent parish local match. Construction administration, resident inspection and testing, which are currently estimated at $75,000 will be funded 100 percent by Jefferson Parish.

“The bicycling community strongly supports the Parish’s efforts to reopen the entire Lake Pontchartrain Lakefront path, while also providing the additional amenities of rest areas along the route, said Drewes. “All parties are in favor of providing facilities to separate foot traffic from bicycle traffic wherever possible, which provides for a safer, more enjoyable experience for both joggers and pedestrians.”

According to Drewes, there was a delay in reconstruction, based on concerns involving the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with providing a 100-Year Storm level of protection along the Lake Pontchartrain Lakefront in Jefferson Parish and Orleans Parish. As a result, the Corps undertook the task of designing and constructing the raising of the existing levee system, the installation of levee foreshore protection basically consisting of a concrete rip rap breakwater, and the armoring of the existing lakefront drainage pump stations. The majority of the existing 10.6-mile bicycle and pedestrian path was removed to accommodate the Corps’ lakefront construction projects; however, the Corps agreed to install a continuous 10-foot wide asphalt maintenance path which could be utilized by bicyclists/pedestrians at these locations.”

Drewes explained, “Due to the uncertainty of the footprint of the Corps’ finished construction projects, the Parish’s plans to provide improvements to the Lakefront path and adjacent areas had to be placed on hold for approximately five years. Finally, in the spring of 2011, the Corps’ construction of the 100-Year protection system was at a stage which would allow for the proper planning of improvements to the Lake Pontchartrain Lakefront area in Jefferson Parish.

“The project was designed to make the Lakefront path safer and more family-friendly by separating pedestrian and bicycle traffic, providing for 17 rest areas, spaced approximately a half-mile apart along the length of the Jefferson Parish lakefront, and re-striping the entire path. Each rest area will provide a bench, bike rack, picnic table, and trash receptacle. Two sections were selected for construction of a six-foot wide pedestrian path parallel to the existing 10-foot wide asphalt access route that will serve as the bicycle path. Section one, approximately one mile in length, connects the Bonnabel Boat Launch to the recently constructed Bucktown Marina complex, two popular destinations which provide ample parking. Section two, approximately 1.7 miles long, traverses approximately from Waverly Drive to Clearview Parkway, with easy access to the adjacent residential neighborhoods.”

The final construction section is located at the site of the Kenner Boat Launch, another area that provides ample parking, and spans approximately 2,000 ft. (609 m) between the Duncan Canal and Williams Boulevard. This section of path which was not affected by Corps construction will be removed and replaced with a wider section, 16 ft. (4.8 m) to accommodate both bikes and pedestrians.

The project, however, has not been without controversy.

“Clearly, Lake Pontchartrain and the associated Lakefront provide a wonderful recreational area for the enjoyment of all the citizens of Jefferson Parish and the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan area,” Drewes pointed out. ’Post-Katrina, much of this area has been off limits to the public for significant stretches of time due to the ongoing flood protection improvements. Not long after the completion of the levee lift project and placement of the associated asphalt maintenance path, foreshore protection construction began. This work required placement of a temporary fence along the shoreline for safety reasons to keep the general public clear of construction activities and to allow grass to grow along the areas disturbed by construction. The public is simply anxious to have the entire lakefront reopened for public enjoyment as it was pre-Katrina.”

Construction on the new paths is expected to be completed approximately two and a half months after work begins.

Adds Drewes, “The Parish believes that once the entire Lakefront path is open to the public, combined with the additional improvements, all forms of recreational activity will increase.”

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