If you dread navigating around the drainage projects on Napoleon, Jefferson and South Claiborne avenues, get ready: Louisiana Avenue is next.
The construction of an $82.6 million underground drainage canal along Louisiana from South Claiborne to Constance Street will kick off in coming weeks as trees are trimmed and construction equipment is moved in, Sewerage & Water Board Superintendent Joe Becker told residents at a meeting last week.
It’s the latest undertaking of the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, better known as SELA.
The $1 billion SELA project, administered by the Army Corps of Engineers and the S&WB, was started before Hurricane Katrina and is designed to improve drainage and reduce the risk of flooding in Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Tammany parishes.
Trees in the Louisiana Avenue neutral ground will have to be removed completely, said Lori Wingate, of the Corps of Engineers. Others along the sides of the street will be trimmed as needed to accommodate the construction and will be fenced off so construction equipment doesn’t damage their roots.
The Corps has tried relocating the trees in previous projects but found that only the crape myrtles survived, Wingate said.
Work on the trees could begin as soon as this week. Actual construction will begin in October with the relocation of a major sewer line serving much of Uptown underneath Clara Street near South Claiborne, Becker said.
Crews will then install new 8-inch water lines on either side of Louisiana Avenue to replace the current 6-inch line under the neutral ground. As a result, water pressure will increase for nearby residents.
Those tasks will take as long as a year, after which construction will begin on the concrete covered box culvert, officials said. The entire project should be completed by February 2018.
During construction, traffic on Louisiana will be reduced to a single lane in each direction, Becker said. Drivers will travel on the inside lanes while the new water lines are being installed. When work shifts to the box canal, the interior lanes will be blocked off and drivers will use the outside lanes.
To minimize the interruption to streetcar service, work on the Jefferson, Napoleon and Louisiana Avenue canals will all cross St. Charles Avenue at the same time next summer, Becker said. Buses will run on St. Charles during that time.
The construction on Louisiana Avenue won’t have nearly as much effect on next year’s Mardi Gras parades as the Napoleon Avenue project could.
Construction won’t have reached the St. Charles parade route by that point, so the primary impact will be on the vast number of people Uptown trying to get to and from the parades, Becker said. Workers will try to minimize the footprint of the project prior to Carnival so as few paths around the parades will be blocked as possible.
The Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade, which traditionally includes a segment on Louisiana Avenue, could see more of an effect, Becker said.
Contractor Boh Bros. will take stock of its progress closer to the parades and adjust its schedule as much as possible to allow the parades to roll as normal, Becker said.
Residents have complained for months about the number of major streets Uptown that are under construction at the same time. But project officials have said that, because the work is being paid for with so much federal money, there are a number of reasons to try to complete it all as quickly as is practical.
Of the $82.6 million cost for the Louisiana Avenue work, the federal government is paying $53.7 million, the state is paying $5.6 million and the S&WB is picking up the rest of the tab.
Cedric Grant, executive director of the water board, told residents that officials have learned from each of the previous legs of the project and will apply that experience to Louisiana Avenue.
“I assure you it’s going to be disruptive, but we want to create the minimal disruption that we can,” Grant said.