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LA SAFE funds Airline Highway, Main Street help

LAPLACE — Throughout the past year, St. John the Baptist Parish residents met to discuss and vote on proposed projects to protect the community from future land loss and coastal flood risk.

Developed through Louisiana’s Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments in coordination with the Office of Community Development and the Foundation for Louisiana, the selected St. John Parish project encompasses storm drainage management and beautification efforts on Airline Highway and Main Street in LaPlace.

The proposal would add bio-retention cells to hold and filter run-off, pedestrian and cyclist paths, permeable parking, a green median, shade trees, native plantings, historic light poles and banners to a 1.3-mile stretch on Airline Highway and a 0.3-mile area on Main Street.

The LA SAFE project is funded through a discovery grant targeting the parishes most affected by Hurricane Isaac in 2012, according to Liz Williams Russell, coastal community resilience director.

Russell said all construction must be completed before October 2022.

Parish budget plans are being set, according to Parish President Natalie Robottom. She expects the project will total $12 to $13 million and include three phases of construction from Belle Terre to Main Street.

LA SAFE is not directly related to structural protection projects such as levees or wetland restoration but rather focuses on adaptation strategies to protect residential and business assets from an increased flood risk.

Airline Highway and Main Street were chosen because they comprise a highly visible area close to the Mississippi River and relatively safe from erosion concerns, according to Russell.

Beautification acts as a magnet encouraging community growth in a controlled area without destroying wetlands for expansion, Russell said.

Meanwhile, sidewalk additions and the slope of the ground draw rainwater toward plant species optimized for timely absorption.

Robottom said Parish beautification projects including ponds and greenery often double as storm water management, adding it’s important to contain and absorb water near Airline Highway before it drains to residential areas.

“Yes, it’s beautification, but it’s also functional,” Robottom said. “If you’re going to live with water, you’re going to have to learn how to manage it. That’s not something we’ve done well historically, but people are starting to realize it’s very important to the future of our parishes.”

Improvements also promote highway safety by providing more space for left turns on Airline Highway and adding walking space for pedestrians, Robottom said.

St. John Parish District V Councilman Michael P. Wright said the project has been on the Parish’s radar for a while, and officials are grateful for the funding opportunity.

“It’s a step in the right direction toward reinvesting in our current infrastructure and Parish beautification for future economic growth,” Wright said.

“Aesthetics is a big deal for developers and businesses looking to relocate.”

Ideas for the Airline and Main Complete Streets project came from discussions in meeting rounds two and three, Russell said.

For more information, visit lasafe.la.gov.