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Part of the Lilly Bayou Control Structure, a part of the Comite River Diversion Canal project, after a nearby groundbreaking ceremony for the channel of the Comite River Diversion Canal, Wednesday, April 17, 2019 just off U.S. 61 near Barnett Road in Zachary.

The resolution of a dispute with the Kansas City Southern railroad means work on the $343 million Comite River Diversion Canal should be finished by late 2021, a top official of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday.

"It is full speed ahead," said Bobby Duplantier, the Corps' senior manager on the project.

In August, the Corps and KCS officials were embroiled in a dispute over a request by the railroad for at least $5 million.

The disagreement focused on how much money the federal government should pay KCS to maintain a new bridge carrying railroad tracks that will extend over the canal.

Duplantier told members of the Comite River Diversion Canal Task Force that he expects a key document from KCS to proceed on the project by Nov. 22.

He said the entire project should be finished by the third quarter of 2021, which ends on Sept. 30.

"Everything else is ready to go," Duplantier said.

The 12-mile canal, which has been discussed for decades, would siphon water from the Comite River during floods and send it to the Mississippi River. The Comite is a tributary of the Amite River.

The aim is to lessen the risks of flooding, especially in areas hard hit by the 2016 flood.

"We have an obligation to alleviate this constant threat," said state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs and chairwoman of the task force.

Two members of the panel, state Sen. Regina Barrow and state Rep. Barbara Carpenter, both Baton Rouge Democrats, expressed concerns about the impact on traffic during work near U.S. 61.

"A lot of people are going to be affected with the U.S. 61 deal," Carpenter said.

"I think we need to soon have a meeting just for the residents," she said, adding that leaders need to be able to describe the work in easy-to-understand terms.

Duplantier downplayed the worries.

He also said he and others would welcome a public meeting in the next week or so to allow residents of the area who rely on the highway to get their questions answered.

A portion of the canal is being built near U.S. 61.

A new bridge will be extended over the channel.

During a break in the meeting, Duplantier said officials plan to maintain the flow of traffic by building a car and truck bypass on one side of the highway and a railroad bypass on the other.

"Once we have tied in those bypass mechanisms for each of those, we will then start digging up the actual footprint where the bridge is going to go, the permanent bridge," he said.

Duplantier said that portion of the project will take about one year and begin around February 2020.

He said the impact on daily traffic will be "very minimal" and contractors will study traffic patterns to determine the best time for construction.

Patrick Landry, deputy assistant secretary for public works in the state Department of Transportation and Development, said utility relocation work on the west side of U.S. 61 should be finished this year and on the east side by mid-March.

"We are making good progress with the utility relocation and the real estate," Landry said.

Hodges said work is also needed on the long-discussed reservoir alone the Amite River at Darlington, which would be aimed at reducing flooding in parishes lower on the river.

She said that project has been "clouded" by politics but is one that could have a huge impact for a fraction of the cost of the Comite River Diversion Canal.

"We have got to stop studying the studies," Hodges said.

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