White ribbon of new LA 1 taking shape near Fourchon

March 1, 2008
Construction is under way on the beginning stretch of Phase 1 of Louisiana’s LA 1 Highway Project, which comprises a 6.8-mi section of two-lane, elevated highway running from Leeville south to LA 3090 at Port Fourchon, says the LA 1 Coalition, a non-profit corporation formed by residents and businesses in the region around Port Fourchon.
Leeville Bridge going up

Construction is under way on the beginning stretch of Phase 1 of Louisiana’s LA 1 Highway Project, which comprises a 6.8-mi section of two-lane, elevated highway running from Leeville south to LA 3090 at Port Fourchon, says the LA 1 Coalition, a non-profit corporation formed by residents and businesses in the region around Port Fourchon.

The coalition’s main goal is to route a new Louisiana Highway 1 to roughly parallel an existing two-lane paved road that, despite being “a critical US energy corridor,” is sinking and can now be closed by high tides moving inland along the many bayous linked with the bays and lakes on Louisiana’s southern Gulf Coast. Currently the existing road is vulnerable to complete destruction along much of its route by the wave action of hurricane storm surges.

As planned, the new LA 1 will cost something on the order of $1.5 billion. Perhaps the most crucial sections of the new highway will be construction Phases 1 and 2, which will constitute long sections of two-lane, elevated highway between Golden Meadow and Port Fourchon.

According to Henri Boulet, coalition executive director, James Construction of Baton Rouge, winning bidder for Phase 1A, has begun fulfilling its $137.5 million contract for the project’s Phase 1A, and currently is engaged in using new technology to build the raised concrete roadbed while protecting the marshy environment along the route.

For this job, designated Phase 1A, which began in Spring 2007, the construction company already has driven the necessary pilings to support the elevated highway section, and has begun using a temporary 1,500-ft long trestle atop which three cranes will be used in a “build as you go” system for advancing the elevated road northward. One crane will work to lay down additional trestle, another crane, placed behind the first, will build the concrete and steel girder road itself, snaking it along beneath the trestle.

Finally, the third crane, placed at the end of the trestle, will take up the passed-over girders to send to the first crane for re-installation. According to Boulet, this “top down” construction method is expensive, but environmentally friendly, avoiding the need for dredged construction canals through marshy areas.

Leeville Bridge begun

Concurrently, construction also is well underway on Phases 1B and 1C, which include a fixed-span, high level two-lane bridge over Bayou Lafourche at Leeville and the on and off connector ramps.

Traylor Massman Construction of Evansville, Indiana, is nearing completion of casting and setting concrete girders to which welded steel plate girders will be added in preparation for a cast-in-place concrete deck to be built for the road over the bridge. The coalition estimates the new bridge and connecting ramps, which replace a low-lift drawbridge, could be open by summer, 2009. Total estimated cost is $211.5 million.

New highway alignment for LA 1 construction phases 1-2. (Courtesy of Wilbur Smith Associates).
Click here to enlarge image

Additionally, plans are under way to start right-of-way (ROW) acquisition for the initial stretch of Phase 2 of the project, which will constitute 8.3 mi of elevated road from Golden Meadow southward to Leeville, Boulet says. This section will cost an estimated $260 million, including the ROW acquisition, a survey, and possible re-routing of active pipelines crossing beneath the road’s path, and the actual construction. This longer highway section also will pass through extremely environmentally vulnerable marshland, hence the heightened cost.

“The state is scheduled to finalize what ROW will be needed,” Boulet says. “We will know by August exactly what properties they will need to build the section. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has submitted a capital outlay grant application for the ROW acquisition to the state’s bonding commission, which approves major construction projects that are funded by bonds.”

Digging out the pipelines

Meanwhile, an important facet of the Phase 2 ROW issue is lining up state funding for dealing with moving or deepening any underground pipelines that exist in the Phase 2 ROW, he says.

“We know that several lines do cross beneath it, and some of them may require route alteration or deepening in order to meet federal highway standards.” However, a relatively significant challenge exists in identification of no longer active or “dead” pipelines that pass through the ROW, he says.

The largest of three cranes used for “top down” construction of the elevated sections of LA 1.
Click here to enlarge image

“We’re working with all the current property owners now, but the problem is that many of the oil and gas transmission companies that existed in the 1950s through the 1970s and even 1980s were bought out by larger companies who themselves were later acquired. Many of the surviving companies are not sure exactly where the lines are located.”

The LA 1 Coalition anticipates the state will have to appropriate some $4 million to $5 million in pipe removal and line relocation funds, since in Louisiana the cost of relocating utilities and pipeline infrastructure from any new highway ROW is a state responsibility.

According to Boulet, LA 1 from US 90 to Port Fourchon in one or more ways currently services over 50% of the mobile rigs and fixed and floating production facilities in the entire US Gulf of Mexico, and over 90% of deepwater facilities Also, he notes, Port Fourchon is the host for the Louisiana Offshore Port (LOOP) Booster Station, whose tanker-unloading buoy is located in the open Gulf, making LOOP the only US port capable of handling the crude oil cargoes of ultra large crude carriers and very large crude carriers. The oil comes ashore by pipeline near Port Fourchon and is stored in the nearby Galliano Salt Dome. From there, LOOP pipelines are connected to over 50% of the nations’ refineries.

And the only road connecting this busy region to the rest of Louisiana and the nation is fragile two-lane LA 1, he notes. As it exists today, LA 1 is vulnerable in a number of important ways:

  • Every day, nearly 1,300 big trucks travel down a 30-mi section of the highway, making it twice as deadly as similar highways
  • Without LA 1, access to equipment and support personnel for the hundreds of platforms producing 16% to 18% of the nation’s oil and gas would be severely hampered
  • A federal study projects an 80% increase in truck traffic on this section of LA 1 during the next decade, further straining the existing highway and its accessibility
  • If the current LA 1 were to be rendered unserviceable due to high water in connection with a hurricane harmful to production facilities even for just a few days, this nation’s energy supply would be crippled.

“The importance of the highway to both the Louisiana and US economies is now obvious to the nation,” he says. “While it’s absolutely vital for the local economy, it is critical for the safety of up to 35,000 residents, tourist, and offshore workers in the region, who will benefit from a dependable hurricane evacuation route.”

LA 1 Project costs total $1.5 billion

The LA 1 Highway Improvement proposal is made up of four primary components:

  1. Golden Meadow to Port Fourchon (15.1 mi):
    A four-lane, fully access-controlled, elevated highway between Golden Meadow and Fourchon, Louisiana, (Highway 3090), including interchanges. This section will be elevated above the 500-year base flood elevation, and will be built as two separate, 43-ft-wide spans.
  2. Leeville Bridge (4.4 mi):
    A fixed span, two-lane bridge with a 300-ft horizontal and 73-ft vertical clearance over Bayou Lafourche and Boudreaux Canal at Leeville, Louisiana. Distance includes interchanges and connector roads.
  3. Larose to US 90 (19.5 mi):
    A four-lane at grade highway from Larose, Louisiana, to Valentine, Louisiana, including fixed-structure overpasses over the Intracoastal Waterway at Larose, and over Bayou Lafourche at Valentine, plus a four-lane, at-grade highway from Valentine to US 90. This section was deemed to have the least environmental impact while still providing access to a proposed evacuation route north of US 90 to I-10.
  4. Port Fourchon to Grand Isle (8 mi):
    Highway upgrades and widening of existing two-lane highway.

Total Distance: 47 miles

Project implementation, costs:

The LA 1 project is designed to be built using “end-on-end” type construction methods whenever possible to protect sensitive wetlands and marshes. Phased construction will allow the portions of the project to be built as funding is available.

Phases 1A, 1B and 1C ($349 million)

  • Construction of a two-lane elevated highway south of Leeville to LA 3090 at Port Fourchon (6.8 mi)
  • Construction of a fixed-span, high-level, two-lane bridge over Bayou Lafourche at Leeville, and the interchanges and connector roads immediately north and south of Leeville, providing independent utility and project benefit (4.4 mi)
  • Pre-construction began: 2003
  • Construction period: 2005-2009.

Phase 2 ($220 million)

  • Construction of a two-lane elevated highway from Golden Meadow to Leeville (8.3 mi)
  • Pre-construction began: 2004
  • Construction period: 2006-2011.

Phase 3 ($340 million)

  • Construction of four-lane at-grade highway from Larose to US 90, including overpasses over Intracoastal Waterway and Bayou Lafourche (19.5 mi).

Phase 4 ($580 million)

  • Construction of an additional two lanes of elevated highway from Golden Meadow to Port Fourchon
  • Highway widening and upgrades from Port Fourchon to Grand Isle.

Total Cost: $ 1.489 billion