$8.1 million would pay for guardrails along canals on parts of three major East Jefferson roads, study says

It would cost at least $100 million to install enough barriers to prevent cars from veering into any of the uncovered drainage canals on the east bank of Jefferson Parish, according to a recently completed engineering study.

But for the relatively reasonable sum of about $8.1 million, the parish could install guardrails next to drainage canals running alongside significant stretches of heavily trafficked Veterans Memorial Boulevard and West Napoleon Avenue, as well as a stretch of West Esplanade Avenue that has been particularly prone to accidents, according to the study.

However, it could be a year before crews begin erecting the additional guardrails that officials committed to explore installing after several motorists last year drove into some of East Jefferson’s open canals, with deadly consequences in two incidents.

For one thing, parish officials must decide how to pay for the barriers and whatever structural work is necessary to accommodate them. Further, they must design the work and put it out for bid, parish Public Works Director Kazem Alikhani said Monday.

However, the release of the new study means officials can begin having those discussions, Alikhani and parish Engineering Department Director Mark Drewes said.

The study makes clear that dealing with all the open canals would be a very expensive proposition. In some spots, widening embankments enough to accommodate guardrails would compromise the canals’ drainage capacity, meaning a pricey box culvert would have to be installed.

That is the case on well-traveled West Metairie Avenue, where the study estimates it would cost almost $48 million to lay down the necessary guardrails and box culverts from the Kenner city line to Edenborn Avenue in Metairie some 4 miles away.

Therefore, Alikhani and Drewes said they are recommending that the parish consider first addressing spots that the study identified as well-traveled but much cheaper to prepare for guardrails.

For example, it would cost less than $4.1 million to install guardrails and widen the embankments where necessary on Veterans Memorial Boulevard between Bissonet Drive and the Bonnabel Canal about 3.5 miles away.

That figure would cover guardrails that are more decorative than the standard industrial ones, which would clash with beautification efforts the parish has pursued on Veterans in recent years, Alikhani and Drewes said.

About $3.2 million would be enough for ordinary guardrails and necessary embankment widening to shore up the open canal on West Napoleon Avenue between the Kenner city line and Metairie Court about five miles away, the study said.

And about $834,000 would cover guardrails and necessary embankment widening to boost safety on West Esplanade Avenue between Gary Mikel Avenue and Richland Avenue, a stretch of two-tenths of a mile where seven vehicles ended up at the bottom of the canal between 2010 and 2015, an unusually high number when compared with other unprotected spots, the study said.

Alikhani and Drewes said they weren’t sure why that area is so accident-prone, but they speculated that it could be because it lies in a 1.5-mile area that has few traffic lights, leading to faster driving.

Before they can consider following the recommendations of Alikhani and Drewes, parish officials must identify local, state and federal funding sources.

Parish Council members Ben Zahn and Jennifer Van Vrancken, whose districts include the east bank’s major thoroughfares, said they would be open to allocating some of their discretionary funds to the effort, as well as their districts’ shares of $35 million the parish recently pocketed from settling a lawsuit against BP following the 2010 oil spill.

Alikhani and Drewes said Parish President Mike Yenni’s administration also would look to its own coffers for money to contribute.

But Alikhani said improving motorist safety at extremely expensive stretches like the one on West Metairie is “well above what the parish can contribute by itself,” and to do that work, Jefferson will need to pursue things like state and federal highway safety grants.

Van Vrancken and Zahn also said that before firmly committing to anything on the matter, they want to conduct their own analysis, using the study’s accident and financial data, to identify which stretches of open canal in their districts most urgently need barriers.

The Parish Council voted in the summer to hire six engineering firms to team up to perform canal safety studies on both the east and west banks.

The $150,000 study by Pivotal Engineering, Digital Engineering and ECM Consultants covering the east bank was completed first, partly because that was where Karissa Wise, 6; her mother, Elizabeth Braddock, 32; and firefighter David Yeomans, 33, died in two separate incidents in which their cars plunged into canals in April.

A similar West Bank study is expected to be completed in coming months, Alikhani and Drewes said.

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