When Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng set out last fall to install better lighting, plant new greenery and perform some landscaping along West Esplanade Avenue in Metairie, her hope was that the value of property flanking the thoroughfare might rise as a result.
As it turns out, Lee-Sheng’s $360,000 beautification project has started materializing this summer just as she and her colleagues in parish government seek a solution to another problem involving the same roadway — one they didn’t foresee becoming as prominent as it has.
At least five cars have crashed into drainage canals running down the middle of two major Metairie traffic arteries, West Esplanade and Veterans Memorial Boulevard, since April. In two of those incidents, three people drowned, including a 6-year-old girl.
Lee-Sheng — who represents Metairie-based District 5 — and other officials have said they realize it’s urgent to implement measures that will make heavily trafficked streets adjacent to canals safer, either by enclosing the canals or by installing crash barriers.
At its meeting this week, the Parish Council is scheduled to discuss having an engineering firm conduct a study determining what is the best, most feasible way to address canal safety in the parish.
Even so, Lee-Sheng won’t let the canal-safety efforts temper her enthusiasm for her beautification project. While different in nature, both efforts are important, said the councilwoman, who has carried out similar beautification projects on Veterans near Causeway Boulevard and in the Fat City section of Metairie.
“It won’t conflict with what we’re going to do with the (canals),” Lee-Sheng said, explaining that the West Esplanade beautification project will focus on the roadway’s U-turn lanes.
None of the cars that have gone into the canal recently have done so at U-turn lanes; the accidents have happened while vehicles were traveling straight on the roadway and then suddenly veered off.
“This is going to be a real aesthetic improvement in that corridor that will stay with us for a long time,” Lee-Sheng said about the beautification project.
Using tourism and economic development funds generated by hotel-motel tax revenues, the project calls for lighting, landscaping and greenery improvements at various spots on West Esplanade from Transcontinental Drive to Ridgeway Drive and from Beverly Garden Drive to the 17th Street Canal.
Some of the new light poles already have appeared. They’ll soon be joined by things such as crape myrtles and sabal palm trees, Lee-Sheng said.
The Parish Council received four valid bids for the project. At the recommendation of the civil engineering consulting firm Linfield, Hunter and Junius, the council awarded the contract for both stretches of the project to Hard Rock Construction LLC, of Metairie.
Lee-Sheng said she anticipates the parish will finalize its contract with Hard Rock by mid-July, and the project will be completed by October at the latest, barring delays due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances.
The improvements between Transcontinental and Ridgeway will cost $155,856, and they’ll take up to 60 days to complete. Refurbishing the stretch from Beverly Garden to the 17th Street Canal will cost $203,563 and will take about 90 days.
Sites on West Esplanade where work will be done include the intersections of Clearview Parkway, Richland Avenue, Gary Mikel Avenue/Courtland Drive, North Turnbull Drive, Marseilles Place/Division Street, North Labarre Road and Bonnabel Boulevard. Work also will be performed near East Jefferson General Hospital.
Aside from trees and lighting, a handful of sculptures will be installed, including one at the Bonnabel Boat Launch on Lake Pontchartrain, not far from West Esplanade.
The project also calls for signs to form an entryway to Metairie’s Bucktown section, both at West Esplanade and Lake Avenue and at Lake and Old Hammond Highway, by the popular R&O’s Restaurant.
Lee-Sheng said many people drive through Bucktown — which used to be a fishing and hunting camp colony of sorts — without even realizing where they are, so she wanted to change that.
Sites that will be excluded from the work are West Esplanade’s intersections with Edenborn Avenue, Severn Avenue, Causeway Boulevard, Ridgelake Drive, Melody Drive, Homestead Avenue and Oaklawn Drive.
At Edenborn, Ridgelake, Melody, Homestead and Oaklawn, bridge-type canal crossings don’t allow enough room for landscaping, Lee-Sheng said.
Meanwhile, both the parish and the Regional Planning Committee are studying how to improve the Severn Avenue intersection for pedestrians and bicyclists. No work was recommended at Causeway because of heavy traffic.
Lee-Sheng said she would have preferred that the beautification project not skip over any intersections. But she promised the gaps won’t detract from the project’s goal.
“It’s going to make the area look much more pleasant and draw your eyes away from that open canal a little bit,” she said.