Work Continues Unabated on U.S. 61 Widening Project

Fri January 09, 2009 - Southeast Edition
Zoie Clift



Work is in progress on the last two segments of the U.S. 61 widening project in Louisiana.

The 20-mi. (32.2 km) long project involves widening sections of the U.S. 61 corridor from Thompson Creek to the Mississippi State Line. The project is widening the road from two to four lanes and is one of the 16 projects under the wings of the TIMED Program, (Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development) the largest transportation program in state history.

The $4.9 billion TIMED Program is responsible for widening 536 mi. (862.6 km) of state highways, widening and/or new construction on three major bridges and improvements to both the Port of New Orleans and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

Work on the U.S. 61 project began in 2001 and a completion date has been set for late 2010.

“The project is divided into four segments and each involves several phases, including strategic planning and design, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, environmental impact studies and construction,” said Troy Gros, of the TIMED program. According to Gros two of the four segments are finished and the project is 36 percent complete.

The two completed sections include from Wakefield to the Mississippi State Line and from Bains to Wakefield.

Gros said the total projected cost of the project is $95 million, which is funded by a four-cent gas tax established in 1989 and in effect until all TIMED projects are complete. A series of bond sales will help accelerate construction.

“So far, between 12 and 25 workers are on the project depending on the work being done and the weather,” he said. “They work from dawn until dusk, including some weekends and there is no scheduled night work.”

The two segments currently under construction are the sections from Thompson Creek to St. Francisville and from St. Francisville to Baines. Work on the first segment began June 27, 2008, and the second began Oct. 31. Work on both sections is expected to be finished by mid-2010.

Once they are complete, U.S. 61 from Thompson Creek to the Mississippi State Line will be completely updated and open to four-lane traffic.

According to the LA DOTD, work on the 4.6-mi. (7.4 km) section from Thomas Creek to St. Francisville includes grading, drainage structures, lime treatment, traffic signalization and concrete slab span bridges. It is set to cost $18.9 million.

Another TIMED project, the John James Audubon Bridge, is scheduled to be completed in the area at the same time as the upgrade. The bridge, the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America, is a new Mississippi River crossing between Pointe Coupee and West Feliciana parishes set to replace an existing ferry between the communities.

Once the widening project is complete, the four-lane highway will support additional traffic to and from the bridge.

Work on the 5.7-mi. (9.2 km) section from St. Francisville to Bains includes installing drainage pipe, asphalt overlay, concrete slab span bridge and related work and is set to cost $30.8 million.

A bit of history was uncovered in association with these sections of road. While working, crews uncovered evidence of an old sugar mill that was a part of the Star Hill Plantation in West Feliciana Parish. The site was identified during a 1994 archaeological study for the corridor between Thompson Creek and Bains. In 2000, the site was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The ruins were evidence of Star Hill Plantation’s efforts to go into sugar production before the Civil War. Under contract with the DOTD archaeological work on the excavation project was carried out by R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates Inc.

Gros said clearing and grubbing was recently completed on both segments. Equipment included scrapers, dump trucks, bull dozers, cranes, pile drivers and motor graders. He mentioned adverse weather and maintenance of traffic have caused minor delays on the project.

Denton James LLC out of Baton Rouge is the main contractor working on the two sections. Subcontractors include Midwest Asphalt, Alpha Service, Jack B. Harper, Economy Grassing, Atwood Fence Company, Spinks Construction and C. Pave Specialties. CEG