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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 75 · No. 1 > Louisiana's Recovery

July/August 2011
Vol. 75 · No. 1

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-005

Louisiana's Recovery

by Lauren J. Lee and Bambi Hall

Challenges ranged from providing innovative access for first responders to reconstructing a major bridge and rebuilding miles of submerged roadways. Here's the story from DOTD.

The I–10 Twin Span Bridge, which leads east out of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain, is shown here after repairs of severe damage caused by Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge.
The I–10 Twin Span Bridge, which leads east out of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain, is shown here after repairs of severe damage caused by Hurricane Katrina's storm surge.

Hurricane Katrina roared ashore on August 29, 2005, bringing unprecedented destruction to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. For days, the eyes of the world focused on New Orleans as the city battled rising floodwaters and evacuees fled. Some who remained had to be plucked from rooftops by helicopters, while others sought shelter at the Louisiana Superdome. Images from the worst natural disaster in American history remain vividly etched into the national psyche.

During the surge, many of the bridge’s concrete spans tumbled off their piers and into Lake Pontchartrain, making the bridge impassable.
During the surge, many of the bridge's concrete spans tumbled off their piers and into Lake Pontchartrain, making the bridge impassable.

The regional transportation infrastructure was not immune to the destruction brought by the hurricane. In the New Orleans area, roadways such as La. 23 were literally torn apart, and docking structures along the Mississippi River collapsed. Frighteningly, segments of the Interstate 10 (I-10) Twin Span Bridge were ripped apart, leaving hundreds of 65-foot (20-meter)-long concrete slabs in the water and rendering the 5.5-mile (8.9-kilometer) structure impassable.

To date, more than $2.4 billion has been invested to revitalize the region's infrastructure. What follows is the story of the recovery from the perspective of the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development (DOTD) in the context of the overall Federal response.

As shown in this photograph taken on August 30, 2005, Interstate 10 in New Orleans was entirely underwater.
As shown in this photograph taken on August 30, 2005, Interstate 10 in New Orleans was entirely underwater.

 

On La. 23, which runs along the Gulf Coast in Empire, LA, these boats landed across the road, tossed like toys by the powerful storm surge.
On La. 23, which runs along the Gulf Coast in Empire, LA, these boats landed across the road, tossed like toys by the powerful storm surge.

Humanitarian Responses

Given the immediate damage and levee breaches, DOTD's first priority was assisting with rescue and recovery operations. Ferry boats saved more than 6,000 people in St. Bernard Parish alone. In the Hammond area, DOTD employees assisted their coworkers and neighbors with food, water, equipment, and supplies. The department's prompt response also included debris removal and infrastructure repairs. In addition, DOTD initiated a call center for the public to obtain road closure information and to report roadway debris.

In the days following the storm, DOTD Secretary Sherri H. LeBas, P.E. (at the time, facilitator for the department's Change Management Program) coordinated housing accommodations for DOTD employees whose homes had been damaged or destroyed. Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), LeBas secured temporary shelter at local hotels, for which DOTD was reimbursed by FEMA, and identified long-term housing in FEMA trailers placed on the department's property.

This leaning telephone pole was one of many that complicated the post-hurricane cleanup of streets in New Orleans.
This leaning telephone pole was one of many that complicated the post-hurricane cleanup of streets in New Orleans.

"We were able to secure housing for our employees so they could then effectively do their jobs in assisting the citizens of New Orleans in debris removal, roadway cleanup, damage assessment, signal repair and signage," says LeBas.

This house ended up straddling a highway in South Louisiana.
This house ended up straddling a highway in South Louisiana.

In addition to reaching out to employees in need, DOTD called on regional personnel to make the roadways passable for supply trucks and first responders. DOTD District 02 Administrator Mike Stack, P.E., was at that time the New Orleans district design and water resources engineer, and served as an engineering adviser to area levee districts. Stack was one of the first responders to the 17th Street Canal levee breach, immediately coordinating resources and personnel to begin repairs. Using his engineering knowledge and experience, and calling on public employees and the limited materials and equipment available near the breach, he had a makeshift road built to access the site.

Stack explains, "We used large stone and broken concrete found along the nearby Lake Pontchartrain shoreline as a base and placed it directly into the breach, using dump trucks and bulldozers. We then covered it with recycled asphaltic concrete from a stockpile found nearby. The recycled asphalt was fine enough to fill voids between the large stone, and the top layer created a riding surface. This method did two things. It allowed us to bring equipment and resources directly to the breaches, and while not totally stopping the flow, it did provide enough of a closure to allow pumping to resume and the draining of the city to begin."

This makeshift road was built to access the 17th Street Canal in order to close the floodwall breach. This method, devised by DOTD’s Mike Stack, proved so successful that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used it to close many of the breaches in the levees.
This makeshift road was built to access the 17th Street Canal in order to close the floodwall breach. This method, devised by DOTD's Mike Stack, proved so successful that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used it to close many of the breaches in the levees.

In other humanitarian efforts, DOTD teamed with FEMA to begin LA Swift, a bus service that offered displaced New Orleans residents a free ride to and from work. Before the end of the year, DOTD also restored the famous New Orleans streetcars that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

These cranes are helping reconstruct the I-10 Twin Span Bridge.
These cranes are helping reconstruct the I–10 Twin Span Bridge.

I-10 Twin Span Bridge

The I-10 Twin Span Bridge, two parallel structures spanning Lake Pontchartrain between New Orleans and Slidell, was severely damaged by the violent storm surge that accompanied Katrina. Damage assessment teams from DOTD, supported by consultants, went to work as soon as the winds began to subside. What they found was startling evidence of the storm's fury.

"The rising water, combined with the battering of the waves, shifted a number of concrete spans off their piers," recalls Arthur D'Andrea, P.E., the department's assistant bridge design administrator. "The eastbound bridge was missing 38 spans with another 170 misaligned. The westbound bridge was in worse shape, with 26 spans in the lake and another 303 knocked askew. Each of these spans weighed in excess of 255 tons [231 metric tons]."

The destruction of the Twin Span Bridge, combined with damage to nearby U.S. 90, left the two-lane U.S. 11 bridge as the only eastern route into New Orleans. Knowing that the recovery of the region would require a viable transportation link, DOTD personnel went to work on a bid package for emergency repairs. Within 12 days, the department accepted a $30.9 million bid from Boh Bros. Construction Co. of New Orleans. The repair plan called for using undamaged segments from the westbound bridge to fill gaps in the eastbound structure and to open one lane of traffic in each direction. The construction team worked day and night to complete the work 17 days ahead of schedule. Later, DOTD's contractor used prefabricated steel panels to repair the westbound bridge, completing the work 9 days ahead of the 120-day contract deadline.

Excluding the high-rise section that accommodates the navigation channel, much of the 42-year-old bridge featured a vertical clearance of only 8.5 feet (2.6 meters). DOTD determined the best course of action was to replace the existing Twin Span Bridge with a wider, taller, more robust structure that would be better able to withstand surges driven by hurricane-force winds.

The department secured approximately $803 million in funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and broke ground for the new Twin Span Bridge only a few days before the 1-year anniversary of the storm. "Rebuilding this bridge was essential to the recovery of the New Orleans region," says FHWA Division Administrator Charles "Wes" Bolinger. "I-10 is a vital artery for this area, and its reconstruction has been a priority for everyone involved."

The original bridge accommodated two eastbound and two westbound travel lanes. The new bridge features two parallel spans, each 60 feet (18 meters) wide, and capable of supporting three 12-foot (3.7-meter) travel lanes bounded by 12-foot shoulders. The new bridge is 30 feet (9 meters) above the waters of Lake Pontchartrain and 21 feet (6 meters) higher than the former Twin Span Bridge. A high-rise section spans the navigational channel and provides 80 feet (24 meters) of vertical clearance.

Not only is the new Twin Span Bridge redesigned to withstand powerful storm surges and unexpected events, but also it is equipped with an unusual and complex monitoring system. The system includes sensors along one pier from the foundation of the bridge up to the roadway. The sensors will be able to detect when the structure has been hit along the instrumented area by anything ranging from a barge to a storm surge. This capability will enable DOTD to take immediate action to ensure safe travel for drivers, as well as extend the life of the bridge by monitoring its health over the years.

A long section of the rebuilt I–10 Twin Span Bridge is shown here, along with the high-rise section for the navigation channel.
Sections of La. 23, shown here on September 12, 2005, were torn apart during Hurricane Katrina, as were other roadways in South Louisiana.

In addition, a weigh-in-motion scale will measure the weight of trucks traveling over the bridge. With this technology, DOTD will be able to monitor the impacts of each truck's weight on the structure and foundation. The comprehensive monitoring system will allow DOTD officials to identify when the bridge is overloaded, evaluate the structure's performance, respond quickly to unexpected incidents, and perform repairs as needed. This data also will assist in designing future bridge projects in Louisiana.

The first span opened to eastbound traffic in July 2009 and westbound traffic in April 2010. Eastbound and westbound drivers currently share the eastbound approaches while the westbound approaches remain under construction. Final completion is slated for mid-2012.

A long section of the rebuilt I–10 Twin Span Bridge is shown here, along with the high-rise section for the navigation channel.
A long section of the rebuilt I–10 Twin Span Bridge is shown here, along with the high-rise section for the navigation channel.

 

Submerged Roads Program

The devastation from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, coupled with the subsequent failure of critical flood protection systems, led to massive flooding that lasted up to 5 weeks. Nearly two-thirds of the Federal-aid road network in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes was covered by water saturating the roadway sub-bases. Emergency response, debris removal, demolition, and construction in the months following the storms compounded the situation. As traffic returned to the roadways prior to their reconstruction, the damage continued to worsen.

These workers are helping clear debris from a street.
These workers are helping clear debris from a street.

The needs of the region's road network were so great that they had to be addressed through multiple forms of assistance. The South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program was and continues to be a critical component of that process. This extensive program to repair and restore roads provides hope to residents who are still rebuilding in the aftermath.

"The devastation of Hurricane Katrina left many roadways in the New Orleans region impassable with huge volumes of debris requiring disposal," says FHWA Project Delivery Team Leader Carl Highsmith. "Some debris haul routes required restoration, as these routes were further damaged due to being submerged and carrying heavy debris-laden trucks."

Sponsored jointly by FHWA's Louisiana Division, DOTD, and the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (RPC), the Submerged Roads Program repairs may be funded under FHWA's Emergency Relief Program. Between July 2007 and the end of 2010, construction was completed on 12 roadway segments and underway on another 24, with completion of the final 20 segments anticipated by December 2011. More than $118 million currently is invested in the program.

Determining which roads were in need of funding was a collaborative effort by DOTD, FHWA, RPC, and local governments. The agencies identified street segments based on factors such as the extent of damage (determined through FHWA damage inspection reports), use and importance of the roadway, and public interest and concerns.

In addition to receiving support from dedicated funding for emergency relief, the Submerged Roads Program teamed with local government agencies to cover ineligible cost items under the Federal Emergency Relief Program. Nonemergency funding so far has included more than $3 million from the RPC and local government matching funds. This additional funding helped improve the quality of life for area residents by enhancing projects while still avoiding costly delays. For example, in collaboration with FHWA, DOTD, and RPC, the New Orleans Department of Public Works installed enhancements such as curbs and landscaping. In addition, $10 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 funding combined with Submerged Roads funds to support construction of bicycle paths throughout Orleans Parish.

This roadside sign provides motorists with contact information for the South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program, a comprehensive federally funded effort to restore roads that were damaged as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
This roadside sign provides motorists with contact information for the South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program, a comprehensive federally funded effort to restore roads that were damaged as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

 

New Orleans’ historic, tree-lined St. Charles Avenue is one of the roads repaired through the South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program. Here, only part of the pavement sign remained after the hurricanes.
New Orleans' historic, tree-lined St. Charles Avenue is one of the roads repaired through the South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program. Here, only part of the pavement sign remained after the hurricanes.

"Not only is the Submerged Roads Program restoring roadways to their previous condition," says Highsmith, "with the addition of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, it is also providing funding for enhancements. Also, the repairs to the roads and infrastructure are helping to fuel recovery and investment in residences and businesses in the city."

The program is repairing or replacing more than 80,280 linear feet (24,469 meters) of sidewalks and planting more than 1,125 trees along Submerged Roads corridors to help reestablish the tree canopy. The program also is adding 72,026 linear feet (21,953 meters) of shared-use lanes and 51,016 linear feet (15,550 meters) of dedicated-use bike lanes to the preexisting system. DOTD Secretary LeBas says the addition of these enhancements is one of the hallmarks of the Submerged Roads Program. Those enhancements would not have been possible without close coordination that reaped "the highest return on investment for the public," she says. "Improvements add to the quality of life for residents, area business owners, and visitors alike. Our commitment is not just to rebuild New Orleans, but to rebuild it better by adding a complete streets approach. We want roadways that support the local economy and community and provide an enhanced environment for pedestrians, cyclists, and disabled citizens."

Through careful coordination, DOTD incorporated an additional $5 million from the RPC and $15 million from the Louisiana Recovery Authority into the program so the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans could repair or replace broken water lines in advance of street work. This effort streamlines the process and lessens the inconvenience to neighborhoods, local businesses, and motorists.

Causeway Boulevard Interchange Project

The Causeway Boulevard Interchange Project will ease congestion and improve safety at this heavily traveled interchange, used by approximately 178,000 drivers each day. The Louisiana DOTD is executing the project in two phases. Phase I will build new ramps from northbound Causeway to westbound I-10, from westbound I-10 to northbound Causeway, from westbound I-10 to Veterans Boulevard, and from northbound Causeway to Veterans Boulevard. Work on the $35.6 million (Phase I) project began in April 2009 and is substantially complete.

Phase II is a mirror-image project of the first phase and will provide elevated eastbound and westbound ramps for southbound Causeway Boulevard drivers who are approaching I-10. This construction will eliminate the friction with ground-level traffic coming from Veterans Boulevard. At ground-level, the project will provide separate ramps for drivers approaching I-10 from Veterans. Work on the $51 million project, funded with Federal dollars, began in November 2009 and is expected to be completed in summer 2012.

Last Word

South Louisiana's infrastructure suffered extensive damage due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the flooding that resulted. Having made considerable progress to date, Louisiana continues to rebuild and repair its road networks, with assistance from the Federal Government. An estimated $175 million to $200 million is scheduled to be let to construction in the New Orleans region during the remainder of 2011 and 2012.

Signs of South Louisiana's recovery and rebuilding in the years following the devastating storms are evident as well in newer infrastructure projects, such as the Causeway Boulevard Interchange Project in Jefferson Parish, intended to relieve traffic congestion. (See "Causeway Boulevard Interchange Project" on this page.) "This type of project is indicative of the region's continued growth in the years after the storms," says LeBas, "as well as the area's thriving spirit."

The Louisiana Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness provides valuable information on hurricane evacuation and emergency preparedness at http://gohsep.la.gov and encourages individuals and families to visit the site and establish a game plan.

An aerial view of the new I–10 Twin Span Bridge, taken December 2, 2010.
An aerial view of the new I–10 Twin Span Bridge, taken December 2, 2010.

Lauren J. Lee is a public information officer with Louisiana DOTD's Public Information Office. She holds a B.A. in English from Millsaps College.

Bambi Hall is a public information officer with Louisiana DOTD. She earned a B.A. in journalism from Texas Southern University.

For more information, contact Lauren Lee at 225-379-1294 or lauren.lee@la.gov.

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