Uptown gets preview of next year’s drainage projects

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Scope of the Uptown drainage projects: yellow lines are complete; red are forthcoming. (Via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Massive drainage projects slated to begin in six months should alleviate some of the Uptown’s flooding woes, and new construction technology should make the work on Jefferson, Napoleon, Louisiana and South Claiborne avenues less damaging to surrounding homes than previous projects, engineers and officials said Tuesday evening.

Each of the four Uptown projects — on Louisiana, Napoleon and Jefferson from Claiborne to Constance Street, and on the uppermost portion of Claiborne from Lowerline to Jefferson Parish — will involve a new, larger box culvert underneath the neutral ground alongside the existing underground drainage canal, said Ron Spooner, a New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board administrator. Napoleon will begin first, in April, followed by South Claiborne in May, Jefferson in January 2012 and Louisiana later that year, Spooner said.

Promised by Congress since devastating rains caused $1 billion in flood damage in the New Orleans area in 1995, the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Program has already completed major drainage improvements in Hollygrove, Broadmoor and along a central portion of South Claiborne Avenue. Each of the new projects will last years, but once complete, they will reduce rainfall accumulation for Uptown homes by anywhere from 4 to 16 inches, depending on the exact location in the neighborhood, Spooner said at a preliminary meeting Tuesday night at Loyola University to begin addressing residents’ concerns.

Because the work runs through historic neighborhoods, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Sewerage and Water Board must monitor the amount of dust, noise and vibration that the construction generates, said Lori Wingate, a project manager for the Corps. If construction exceeds its allowable limits on any of these, the work must be stopped, Wingate said.

Vibration in particular has been a problem in previous projects, such as the Napoleon Avenue portion of Broadmoor, but officials say that they have begun using newer equipment to install piling that shakes the ground far less. These “silent piling” devices either push piles into the ground a hydraulic press or vibrate them at high frequencies, rather than destructive blows from a hammer, the officials said.

“It is very quiet,” Wingate said. “You can stand right next to it and hardly feel a thing.”

The devices have been successfully used at the Dwyer Road canal project in New Orleans East, Spooner said.

“We are pleased with this system,” Spooner said. “We believe by including this type of equipment we are on the right track.”

Where the work takes place on more narrow roads, traffic may be significantly reduced – parts of Jefferson will be reduced to one lane during construction, for example. But damaged roads and sidewalks will be rebuilt, and any trees or landscaping deemed historic will be replaced, officials said.

Officials took written questions from the audience toward the end of the meeting and answered most of the more general concerns. For the many questions about specific individual projects, however, officials promised that more neighborhood-based meetings will be held, sometime after the contracts are bid but about two months before construction begins. At those, they said, more information will be given about timelines for construction and documenting homes’ condition in case of damage.

The work will be highly disruptive to schools, traffic, all sorts of facets of Uptown life, said resident Courtney Maheu after the meeting. But rains have flooded her home 18 times in 30 years, so the improvement will be worth the wait, she said. Further, the improvements previously completed on South Claiborne have already lessened the impact of rain flooding in surrounding neighborhoods, so she said she is confident that the remaining corridors will improve much of their surrounding areas.

“This has been in the works for years,” Maheu said. “It’s got to be better.”

Contact Robert Morris at rmorris@NolaMessenger.com, or post your comment below.

2 thoughts on “Uptown gets preview of next year’s drainage projects

  1. This will be a total mess for awhile. And no doubt there will be unnecessary mistakes. But in the end it will definitely reduce street flooding in Uptown for generations. It HAS to. They will be spending almost $500 MILLION on this for just one neighborhood, not just widening the underground canals but adding whole new ones. The track record of what it did for Broadmoor is very good.

    I think about how awful the road work was the last couple of years, but when it was over look how fantastic St Charles, Nashville, Louisiana, Carrollton etc. look. Better than ever.

    Long term this is outstanding news for Uptown. I am guardedly optimistic.

  2. The most interesting thing, for me, is that this was originally promised in 1995. Only 15 years from promise to preview!

    “The work will be highly disruptive to schools, traffic, all sorts of facets of Uptown life.” Note to self: leave town six months hence. Still, I am cautiously optimistic.

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