The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development will begin construction in September on a roughly 3-mile-long asphalt bike and walking trail atop the Mississippi River levee in St. Bernard Parish, the beginning of an ambitious plan to ring the parish with a regional trail and make its existing streets more bike-friendly.
Parish officials said the state will accept construction bids this week on the $1 million project, which is a 10-foot-wide path extending from the Valero Refinery in Meraux to the Violet Canal in Violet.
The work, which should take six months to complete, is the first segment of what will ultimately be an 11-mile trail, most of it along the Mississippi River.
Later phases would extend the path to the Plaquemines Parish line on the eastern end and to Paris Road on the west. A final phase of the $11.3 million project would put a trail adjacent to St. Bernard Highway between Paris Road and Commercial Street, close to the Orleans Parish line.
The state also is putting three miles of bike lanes on St. Claude Avenue and St. Bernard Highway that will connect the western end of the trail to New Orleans.
The work comes on the heels of completion of the updated St. Bernard Bikeway and Pedestrian Plan, finished in June with $40,000 from the Regional Planning Commission and input from public sessions.
The plan lays out a cycling network designed to connect parish neighborhoods with what will become two major multi-purpose trails: the Mississippi River Trail that will begin construction this fall and the planned 40 Arpent Trail. That trail, a 26-mile, $26 milllion project, would connect to the Mississippi River Trail to encircle the urbanized portion of the parish.
The plan identifies collector streets to bring people to the two major trails and their 17 trailheads. It also includes a 3-mile trail called the Chalmette Battlefield Trail that will connect the Chalmette Battlefield to the Wetlands Observatory and Boathouse at the 40 Arpent Canal.
Deborah Fagan, who coordinates grants for St. Bernard Parish, said the idea behind the plan is to create an alternative transportation network that not only connects the parish’s communities — Arabi, Chalmette, Meraux and Violet — together but also links St. Bernard with its neighboring parishes.
She said that by putting bike lanes along streets such as Rowley and Palmisano boulevards and Jean Lafitte Parkway, “it will help the neighborhoods funnel to these regional trails.”
“When they’re all completed, we’re going to have, I think, an ideal cycling network in St. Bernard Parish," said Susan Klees, a board member of the advocacy group Bike St. Bernard. “It will be one of the best in the state, if not the best.”
Klees said making St. Bernard more accommodating to biking isn't just a way to promote recreation and exercise.
"Even though that’ s a big part of cycling, we're talking about cycling as a means of transportation," she said. "We have a lot of people who do not have access to cars, and if we can provide them with the sidewalks and the bike paths so that they have safe access to low-cost transportation, it will be a real boon for that segment of our population.”
The bikeway plan, which is available on the parish’s website, includes recommendations for bicycle routes, shared marked lanes, bicycle lanes, multi-purpose trails, sidewalk connections and other improvements.
The planned bikeways include strictly bicycle routes, shared lanes that are marked like those recently installed on Palmisano Boulevard, bicycle lanes like those recently installed on Hannan and Colonial boulevards, neighborhood greenways, shoulder routes and multiple-use trails.
The plan also incorporates the parish’s new Complete Streets Policy, which was adopted in 2016 and identifies 47 miles of sidewalks that need to be installed or improved and 56 specific pedestrian crossing improvement projects.
Fagan said St. Bernard has gotten about $3 million in funding for bike lane construction. The first three phases of the Mississippi River Trail are funded, and the parish could find out about money for the fourth phase this summer.
The fifth and final phase — the separate path along the south side of St. Bernard Highway at the west end of the parish — remains unfunded. While that phase is further down the line, the street-level striping being done by the state now near the Orleans-St. Bernard line will be there in the meantime, Fagan said.
Fagan said the parish has applied for the first of the grants to fund the 40 Arpent Trail.
Klees said planning work began on St. Bernard’s portion of the Mississippi River Trail before Hurricane Katrina, but the project took a backseat for years after the storm because resources were needed for other priorities.
She said completion of the plan update last month was important because it’s a required step before applying for state and federal funding for the project it lays out.
“As I’ve learned in my advocacy, these things don’t happen overnight,” she said.