Solutions sought for interchange flooding

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 25, 2002


LAPLACE – A meeting is planned in late November to review possible ways to relieve the chronic high-water problem at the U.S. Highway 51 at Interstate 10 interchange – a problem highlighted during Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili.

The meeting with the state highway department is planned Nov. 26 at 10 a.m. at the DOTD offices in Baton Rouge, and will include area state legislators, including Sen. Joel Chaisson II, Rep. Gary Smith and Rep. Bobby Faucheux, and parish government representatives from St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes.

“It’s a definite problem,” Rep. Smith of Norco said. “It’s not acceptable. I can’t believe it’s acceptable to federal highway standards.”

As water from Lake Pontchartrain backed up into the marshes around Peavine Road and toward U.S. Highway 51, pushed by tidal surge and storm winds, businesses were shut down by up to four feet of water on the roads. Most of the water came with Isidore, according to parish officials, but Lili slowed the draining of the area as well, prolonging the problem. The vital intersection is a major evacuation route for both parishes.

“I don’t ever remember the water staying as long as it did,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we can put this on the priority track.”

St. John Parish Councilman Jobe Boucvalt, in whose district the interchange is located, moved for a resolution at the council’s Oct. 8 meeting, along with Councilman-at-Large Duaine Duffy, which called for raising the roadway to a minimum elevation of 4.5 feet, wherever possible. The measure passed unanimously, with Councilmen Lester Rainey Jr. and Dale Wolfe absent.

The resolution read, in part: “Whereas U.S. Highway 51 and the intersection of I-10 and I-55 is a major evacuation route; and whereas, the federal government has recognized a need to protect this interchange with a hurricane protection levee; and whereas, St. John the Baptist Parish floods in tidal events; and whereas, St. John the Baptist Parish Council has set a 4.5-feet minimum elevation for streets in our parish; and whereas, the State of Louisiana has already raised Highway 90 recently; and whereas, St. John the Baptist Parish wants to provide a similar protection for its residents.”

Boucvalt said there is only so far the roadway itself can be elevated, because of height restrictions from the I-10 overpass.

However, he added, “Our connections all need to be elevated.”

Boucvalt suggested building a raised access ramp, possibly starting from near the Holiday Inn and extending to I-55.

Meanwhile, another idea is constructing a sandbag ring levee prior to any such possible flood events, aimed at keeping lake water out of the intersection, to address the problem in the short run.

One other possible help could come with the construction of the proposed hurricane protection levee on the East Bank of St. John Parish. However, since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is only now in the soil-boring and testing point of the two proposed alignments, construction enough to have any real effect is years in the future.

“It’s got to be resolved,” Chaisson said. “The ultimate solution would be that hurricane protection levee, but that’s still long-term.”

Meanwhile, Chaisson added, he is also planning to attend that November planning meeting with DOTD to brainstorm on possible solutions to address the problem before the next hurricane season.

Rep. Bobby Faucheux of LaPlace added that when he was first elected and several times since, he has made that intersection’s flooding problems a major concern.

The current plan is only to raise the roadway a few inches, and he plans to strongly urge a ring levee with a system of pumps, the pumps to be operated by the parish, to keep the intersection open and keep those businesses, especially the gas stations, open for business.

“It’s like pulling teeth, but we’re trying to get something here,” Faucheux said.