Six local engineering firms will begin studying options for making major roadways that run alongside Jefferson Parish drainage canals without barriers safer for motorists.

At least five vehicles crashed into Metairie drainage canals between early April and the beginning of this month. Four of the accidents occurred on West Esplanade Avenue and one on Veterans Memorial Boulevard. Three people — among them a 6-year-old girl — drowned in two of the incidents.

At its meeting Wednesday, the Parish Council chose three firms to study the East Bank canals and roadways and another three to focus on the West Bank. There are 340 miles of unprotected canals in the parish, officials have said.

The firms studying the East Bank roadways are Pivotal Engineering, Digital Engineering and ECM Consultants. Rahman & Associates, URS and Professional Engineering Consultants will study the West Bank.

Neither study’s cost will exceed $300,000, according to resolutions unanimously approved by the council.

Jefferson Parish Public Works Director Kazem Alikhani said there were two reasons to involve so many firms. First, each company will bring specific expertise to the table; also, dividing the workload among six firms should expedite the process, he said.

Parish Councilman Ben Zahn said he and Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng considered introducing a resolution that would have declared the canal situation an emergency. Each of their East Bank districts includes major thoroughfares divided by an open canal, and an emergency declaration would have allowed the parish to begin tackling the problem more quickly.

But Zahn said hiring six engineering companies was a satisfactory substitute.

“This is the closest thing (to an emergency declaration) to expedite this process,” he said.

The parish hopes it can begin implementing the studies’ recommendations in six to nine months, Alikhani said.

Whatever the studies end up recommending, parish officials expect it will be expensive. Installing more guardrails along the canals or even covering some of them would likely run into the millions, officials have said.

At the moment, the banks of some canals are too narrow to accommodate the installation of guardrails without compromising the canals’ structures. And the existing curbs around some canals may cause cars to launch over barriers that are built too close to the roadway.

Either scenario requires pricey modifications.

Nonetheless, Alikhani said the parish is prepared to follow whatever suggestions the new studies make. The studies should also let officials know which stretches of canal to prioritize, he said.