Airline guardrail installation to begin

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 14, 2009


ST. ROSE – Construction is set to begin Monday on a 5.5 mile-long guardrail along Airline Highway in St. Charles Parish that will help protect drivers from crashing into a deep canal on the road’s shoulder.

Officials from the state Department of Transportation and Development said the 3-foot-high steel barrier will run from Almedia Road in St. Rose to the end of the Barrow Pit Canal near Apple Street in Norco.

RMD Holdings Ltd. was the low bidder among six other construction firms that vied for the project back in May. The Chesterfield, Mich., firm said the project could be down in about 52 days at a cost of $1.56 million.

Officials with DOTD said construction work would force the closure of the right westbound lane for the added safety of the contractors on the project. The lane will be closed from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays for the duration of the work. Construction should be completed by mid-October.

Water in the canal is said to be more than 20 feet deep in some locations. The area has been the scene of several accidents where vehicles have swerved into the murky water. According to state figures, 13 people have died in the canal in more than two-dozen crashes since 2001.

State and federal officials set up a task force in 2003 to study potential changes to the roadway and more than $800,000 worth of improvements were made along Airline Highway including closing some of the cuts in the median, adding reflective markers and lengthening turning lanes. In the past, however, some expressed concern over the installation of a barrier out of fear vehicles might be more likely to rebound back into the roadway.

The project continued to garner talk over time, but no further recommendations were made. The barrier plan got a huge boost in 2008, when Sen. Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan and Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco, secured a $1 million appropriation for further safety improvements on the highway.

“It’s good to see this guardrail finally go up,” St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. said in a statement. “It’s a project that has been long overdue for the safety of our residents who travel that dangerous section of highway day in and day out. My only concern is that it functions the way it’s supposed to and doesn’t cause any further problems for motorists, but all indications are that it will help save lives.”

Earlier drafts of the project called for a series of cable barriers similar to those placed in the median of Interstate 12 in St. Tammany Parish and Interstate 10 in St. James Parish, but a soil study in the area showed that the land would be too moist to sustain the cable barriers, so engineers opted for the steel guardrail.