Road to Recovery

Tara VanTimmeren / August 14, 2008

Miles of roads in south Louisiana parishes that were inundated by Hurricane Katrina or by levee failures are currently being repaired in the form of a $150 million program called the South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program.

The program aims to rehabilitate 52 roadway segments that were flooded for up to 11 days by one of the most damaging hurricanes in U.S. history, Jeff Burst, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD) program manager, told Roads & Bridges.

The project began in July 2007, and LaDOTD aims to have all 52 let to construction by June 2009 and is continuing to look for and identify other roadway segments that can have damage inspection reports written on them and be added to the program in an extended second phase, “basically until the money runs out,” Burst said.

“There was widespread damage throughout the entire city,” he continued. “The roadways that were selected were based on a collaborative effort between federal, state and local officials reliant heavily on the local guys—New Orleans Department of Public Works; regional planning commission. Representatives identified which roadway segments were critical as far as rehabbing them as vital links to move people in and out of the city, to bring business back and hopefully help with the recovery proc­ess.”

Once the roadways were established as eligible for the program, LaDOTD sent out crews to do a subsurface evaluation, take core samples of the asphalt pavement to test for densities and do underground nondestructive radar testing to identify road-base failures. They also ran a profile index with an automated profiler for longitudinal surface testing, Bill Cudnek, the program’s resident engineer, told Roads & Bridges.

“We actually sent out a crew to walk and evaluate all the roadway segments in detail—every foot,” Burst said. Then an evaluation report was made and sent to the design consultant to develop the plant specifications for construction.

If additional work needs to be done—for example, replacement of a water or sewer line that is not covered under the scope of the program—LaDOTD can cooperate with the city and regional planning commission to utilize other funding sources on a case-by-case basis, but as far as the overall program goes, it is 100% federal emergency relief funds.

LaDOTD has hired HNTB Corp., Kansas City, Mo., to assist them in overall program oversight management. Under their umbrella contract, LaDOTD has established four retainer contracts and hired four different engineering consulting firms to prepare plans, cross estimates and construction specifications.

The 52 roadway segments have been split into 17 groups, some with three roadways, some with as many as nine or 10, Larry Blazek, HNTB program manager, told Roads & Bridges.

“We grouped them more for regional or geographical locations so that it would be good, competitive bids for the contractor so we wouldn’t have to mobilize all over the city or the parishes,” Blazek said. “There are four design consultants to develop the plans. We get those ready for bid stage, provide the package to LaDOTD and they do the advertising and take care of the bids as well as determining who the contractor will be. They issue a note to proceed, and then we provide the construction services.”

The vast majority of the program’s roads—90%—are asphalt roadways, but there are several concrete roadways as well, where either partial patching or full-panel replacements will be required. Typically, the work on the roads includes full-depth patching, milling and an overlay of 2 in.

The asphalt binder used is a 76/22 performance grade, and the stone size varies from roadway to roadway. A Superpave-type asphalt mix design is used if it is determined that the base conditions are suitable to density compaction, Cudnek said. On areas that have poor subgrade, a pre-Superpave-type asphalt mix is used because it is a softer mix and does not require as much vibration and compaction to reach the desired densities.

“Whenever we ran into an area where the geotechnical reports let us know that the soils were extremely poor underneath and it was going to be difficult to achieve those densities with the Superpave, we opted to use the softer asphalt to make sure we got a good product,” Cudnek said.

The initial $4 million contract was awarded to Boh Bros. Construction Co, New Orleans, who used their own asphalt plant for the project. Once the asphalt was laid down, coring, determining the density and extraction to determine asphalt content was performed by LaDOTD.

Burst stressed seamlessness as a focal point for the project.

“One thing that I think a lot of people are unaware of about this program is that there are many other programs going on in the city—a lot of utility-type programs where there are bonded overlays going on that the city has been solicited to do.

“Entities are replacing 800 miles of gas line in the city; there is about 600 miles of sewer and water lines to replace. There are a lot of additional municipalities, both public and private entities, that have programs in the area. What we’ve done is somewhat unique for the area: hold utility summits—have all the heads of all these agencies there, for a high-level effort of cooperation to where we can get all utility work done, all the other city projects done ahead of ours, so that it looks like one seamless recovery effort.

“In the past, you may have paved a roadway, and within six months, they’re digging a utility trench down the middle of it. We’re trying to avoid those situations; we’re trying to make it a cooperative effort so it seems seamless and so we can maximize these federal recovery dollars.”

Burst said the program has worked very well. “There are a lot of agencies being cooperative and working with us and our program to see that a lot of these projects are done successfully and done well and right the first time.”

“The area was very impacted and so the street conditions are going to be truly improved as a result of this cooperation between the FHWA and the DOTD,” Geneva Coleman, a consultant to HNTB on the project, told Roads & Bridges. “It couldn’t have come at a better time. People have tried to come home, they want to come home and this shows great signs of progress. It’s a real good-news story. It gives everybody a sense of moving forward and rebuilding and recovery.”

Cudnek added that the project is a vital one that is really helping everything come back to the city of New Orleans. “It’s really helping, from what we’ve seen out in the field. We have a lot of support from the public—these roads are residential and they affect people even greater. It’s been a lot of good, positive feedback and interaction with the public and the residents.”

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