After three people died in two cars that plunged into Metairie drainage canals in recent days, Jefferson Parish officials on Wednesday said they will explore what it would cost to erect crash barriers alongside canals in heavily trafficked areas.
The focus would be on those spots because not all of the 340 miles of unguarded canals in the parish are next to busy, suburban thoroughfares like the ones where firefighter David Yeomans, 33; Elizabeth Braddock, 32; and her daughter Carissa Wise, 6, met their deaths, parish drainage Director Mitchell Theriot said.
Theriot nonetheless estimated that putting up walls along such canals would cost the parish “in the millions,” even if it limited the crash barriers to busy areas. In part, that’s because officials would need to widen the banks alongside several of the canals so they could accommodate crash barriers, whether metal guardrails supported by wooden posts or less bulky cable systems.
“Obviously, in the wake of tragedy, you hate to think about cost, but ... we would have to have funding available in order to do the barricades,” said Theriot, who added that the canal where Yeomans died would be among those that would need wider banks to accommodate a crash barrier.
Still, several officials said they are determined to get firm figures on such costs and try to identify funding sources.
Parish Councilman Ben Zahn said he and Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng are trying to arrange meetings with state lawmakers representing Jefferson Parish as well as the state Department of Transportation and Development in hopes of identifying money that could be used to build canal barriers.
Zahn and Lee-Sheng represent council districts that contain major drainage canals along West Metairie Avenue, West Napoleon Avenue, West Esplanade Avenue and Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie and near Kenner, and they intend to present a resolution to the council April 29 or May 13 requesting that the parish government do whatever it can to make those structures safer.
“Of course, with the three fatalities right here with canal situations, we definitely have to ... do something to protect more of our residents,” Zahn said.
Meanwhile, Parish President John Young said he has instructed the Public Works and Drainage departments to consider all options, including covering up the canals on West Napoleon, West Metairie, West Esplanade and Veterans.
Statistics about how many people have died in cars that landed in Jefferson canals in recent years were not immediately available Wednesday. The Sheriff’s Office said its overall data don’t distinguish between accidents that stay on roadways or end up in drainage canals, though investigators note those facts in their individual reports.
However, the deaths of Yeomans, Braddock and her daughter were on the minds of those who attended a Parish Council meeting in Gretna on Wednesday. Young and council members expressed condolences to the victims’ loved ones during the proceedings.
Braddock and Carissa died after the SUV they were in went into a canal at Veterans and Clearview Parkway on Tuesday afternoon. Braddock was driving near Clearview Mall when her SUV spun out of control and into the canal. The young girl died at the scene. Braddock died later at the hospital.
Four days earlier, authorities recovered the body of Yeomans, who died after his truck ran into a West Esplanade canal.
A veteran of the Iraq War and a 10-year member of the Jefferson Parish Fire Department, Yeomans was last seen at work April 5. He was reported missing to the Sheriff’s Office on April 9. The next morning, someone reported seeing a truck half-submerged in the canal near West Esplanade and Hessmer Avenue, and Yeomans’ body was discovered inside.