Parish explores options for road work _lowres

Ascension Parish Paving Projects by Street

The train of big construction vehicles inched along one side of two-lane Manchac Acres Road one morning this month as contractors moved forward with a major rework of the parish road in northern Ascension.

Workers with F.G. Sullivan Jr. Contractor are repaving 1.9 miles of Manchac Acres north of La. 42 and had already converted one side of the old road into dirt, awaiting a fresh run of base material and asphalt.

Manchac Acres is one of the first and longest stretches of road that F.G. Sullivan is repairing as part of a $6.9 million parish government road overlay program, parish officials said.

The project, approved last month and begun Dec. 1, represents one of Ascension’s largest road maintenance outlays in recent years and will repave and repair nearly 23 miles of parish roads, according to the parish road list.

The project, which actually combines two years’ worth of road work, also for the first time relies on new road mapping efforts approved in 2012 and conducted in 2013 to help establish road priorities for the overlay program, parish officials said.

Councilman Todd Lambert, chairman of the parish Transportation Committee, said Monday that he believes the parish’s switch to a more high-tech method of measuring road conditions has made setting the priority list fairer for the entire parish.

Lambert said the roads being repaired in his council district, as an example, were the priority roads, and he believes the assessment method likely will be used on future road overlay programs.

“We’ll see how the program goes this first go-round,” Lambert said.

The council has been supportive of the method, Lambert said, saying they agreed that the new way of prioritizing roads for repair appears to be more fair.

Jason Taylor, parish engineer, agreed with that view, noting that every road council members asked about was already rated as being in poor condition and earmarked for work.

The parish spent $168,000 in 2013 to map all parish roads with an Automatic Road Analyzer van outfitted with sensors and video equipment to assess which roads were in the worst shape.

Bob Horner, parish chief engineer, said roads the ARAN and other methods of analysis have deemed to be in “critical” and “near critical” condition were placed on the priority list. He said the parish also added roads damaged during severe winter ice storms in early 2014.

Though the parish is spending 68 percent more on road overlay this year than last year, this year’s overlay program hardly touches the total backlog of road work on the parish’s 507 miles of roads.

Parish officials estimated they need to spend about $9.2 million per year to keep roads in acceptable condition. The parish’s dedicated road money — which comes from a two-thirds share of a half-cent sales tax — generates about $6.2 million per year.

In mid-2012 when then-Chief Parish Engineer Ben Laurie pitched the ARAN system along with other technological improvements for road prioritization, he argued the system could be used to expand the bang for the parish’s road buck.

Roads in need of cheaper levels of maintenance could be identified and repaired before conditions worsened to the point that much more expensive repairs were needed, Laurie said at the time.

This year’s road program takes a stab at that philosophy, using a thin layer of asphalt-like material to extend the life of roads before they severely deteriorate.

The list sets aside 12 roads covering 4.7 miles to try out the new method, the parish list says.

Taylor, the parish engineer, said the total road program is contracted to take 250 days to complete. He said the parish is already discussing the overlay program for 2015.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.