N.O. to Baton Rouge bike path a dead deal due to funding

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 6, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – A 110-mile Mississippi River levee bike path, which will run through St. John and the River Parishes, and link New Orleans and Baton Rouge, remains stationary as the Pontchartrain Levee District awaits federal funding for the project.

Monica Salinas, executive director for the Pontchartrain Levee District, said the commission could not secure the $125,000 needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to go forward with the master plan, a feasibility study for the project. She said that the money was not available in the 2008 fiscal year, but said she will try again in the 2009 fiscal year, which begins in October.

Salinas said the Levee District has received money and declarations of support from the six parishes that have levees along the east bank of the Mississippi River. She said East Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville, St. James, St. John, and St. Charles Parishes, have each chipped in $12,500 to go toward the master plan study. She said the Pontchartrain Levee District would also put up $50,000.

“We are just waiting on the federal money,” said Salinas. “It is still a big focus of our office, and I’m optimistic that we will get it in the 2009 year.”

Salinas said once the full funding is secured, the master plan study would take approximately nine months to complete. She said the master plan is necessary to qualify the project for federal funding when the time comes for construction. The government would likely cover 80 percent of the estimated $33 million it will take to build the bike path, with the remaining 20 percent coming from state and local sources.

Switching gears toward Lake Pontchartrain, meanwhile, movement is being made in St. John on a portion of a 150-mile bike path around Lake Pontchartrain.

St. John Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said representatives from Meyers Engineers will soon begin to survey a site for a 1.5-mile levee bike path, which will run from the St. Charles Parish line, and continue west to an area near Walnut Street in St. John Parish. It would then hook up with Airline Highway and U.S. 51, and head toward the lake. He said engineers do not have an exact date, but he expects it to begin within the next couple of weeks.

Boe said the path is St. John’s portion of the Lake Pontchartrain Trace, a bike path that will link the seven parishes surrounding the lake.

Once the survey is complete, Boe said Meyers would conduct a parish-wide solicitation of usage, in which Meyers will take comments from the public regarding the impact of adding the path to the area. He said the solicitation is used to get a feel for how residents near the path feel about the path being near their homes.

Boe said once the survey and solicitation is complete, Meyers will begin the design process. He said the Regional Planning Commission would pick up most of the cost of the design for the path.

“The planning commission has put up $60,000 for the design,” said Boe. “St. John will also contribute a small amount, but that number has yet to be determined.”

Boe said 95 percent of the construction costs for the path will come from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. The remaining 5-percent will be funded by the parish.

Boe said the project would link up to a preexisting bike path in St. Charles Parish, which runs into metro New Orleans. He said the path had gone through several revisions, as engineers made sure the path would be in sync with where St. Charles’ path is positioned.