LA SAFE Project close to breaking ground

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 26, 2020

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish is preparing to break ground on the LA SAFE Airline and Main Complete Streets project, an undertaking that will beautify the community while implementing stormwater management features for a resilient future.

The project strives to drive future development into a low flood risk area of St. John the Baptist Parish. This will involve a 1.3-mile stretch of street improvements on Airline Highway between Tiffany Drive and Main Street. Improvements will continue down a 0.3-mile stretch on Main Street in LaPlace.

This project will include cyclist paths, a green median and shade trees, as well as green infrastructure components to hold and filter rain run-off, permeable parking, sidewalks, native plantings and historic light poles and banners.

St. John Parish officials said this project follows the principles of the Parish Adaptation Strategy and serves as a building block to help St. John become more resilient to storms, flooding and other natural disasters.

The project is expected to go out to bid between February and March, with an accelerated construction period projected to start in early summer 2021. Construction is expected to last for a little over a year, according to Pat Forbes, executive director of the Office of Community Development.

Forbes said the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress but has not halted the project.

“It’s certainly slowed some of our projects, not just with the construction side, but also design and permitting since all of the processes in the government offices have slowed down,” Forbes said. “Thankfully, Congress has recognized that and granted an additional year for expenditures on the National Disaster Resilience Funds, so we now have until September 2023 to complete all expenditures.”

The LA SAFE construction contracts will follow all state bid laws and will be advertised appropriately in early 2021, allowing local companies an opportunity to get involved.

Forbes said the St. John the Baptist Parish community should be excited about this project because it sets a standard for smarter development. With the incoming West Shore Levee Project providing much-needed flood protection, St. John Parish will become an attractive area for families to relocate to.

The new green infrastructure allows the parish to manage stormwater more effectively. According to Forbes, the project also designates Main Street as a hub for future development.

“It’s going to give that community a greater sense of place,” Forbes said. “It’s a place where people can gather. It reduces risk for rain flooding. It creates opportunities for recreation through walking, cycling and parks. It is going to make the community a better place to live.”

Created through a partnership between the Louisiana Office of Community

Development and the Foundation for Louisiana, LA SAFE is the result of a community-driven planning process that engaged nearly 3,000 residents throughout six Louisiana parishes. Several public meetings took place in St. John Parish in 2017.

“This isn’t an idea that some planner had and has swooped in and is spending millions of dollars on. They are all projects that were developed through a really robust public engagement process,” Forbes said. “Some 3,000 people ultimately attended meetings across the whole LA SAFE program to look at their own communities, decide what their priorities were for the future of those communities, and then work through what sorts of projects reflect those values and those priorities. This is the result of that planning process.”

The process began with a federal appropriation of funds after hurricanes Isaac and Sandy devastated communities. The Department of Housing and Urban Development set aside $1 billion for a competition for projects creating resilient communities around the country.

In 2019, Governor John Bel Edwards announced that a set of seven climate adaptation strategies created for six parishes across the state were awarded $41

million in Community Development Block Grant funding for flood-resilience projects.

“Louisiana is the most flood-prone state in the country,” Edwards said.

“Through LA SAFE, we are proactively working with our communities to plan for a more resilient future in the face of rising seas and continued flood risk. LA SAFE has taken a vital step by investing in community-driven plans that allow for holistic adaptation across various sectors, as well offer a replicable model for Louisiana and climate-vulnerable communities everywhere.”