Comite River Diversion Canal expected to be completed in December of 2022
Construction of a much-anticipated flood-control channel for the Baton Rouge area may take a year longer to complete than initially expected.
According to The Advocate, The Comite River Diversion Canal will not be completed until December of 2022, based on a recent update from federal officials.
Construction of the 12-mile long channel has been discussed since the 1960's, with many hoping it will divert water from the Comite River and other smaller waterways into the Mississippi River.
But a March 2021 statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicates that locals will have to remain patient and keep waiting for the completion of the project.
Their statement confirmed concerns some officials brought up in 2020.
For example, Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, warned last fall that slippage in the construction timeline may occur and by mid-November, agency and state highway officials had told a legislative task force that they were trying to decide if they could hold the original schedule.
The Advocate notes that at this point, the Corps of Engineers has issued four of the 18 different clearing or construction contracts since the $343 million construction phase started in early 2020, corps officials said.
In early February, the Corps of Engineers awarded its latest contract, a nearly $9.5 million agreement with Coastal Contractors Inc., to build a bridge at McHugh Road on the eastern end of the channel, agency officials told The Advocate.
The state Department of Transportation and Development has also issued contracts to design and build bridges and other improvements at La. 67 and La. 19 and expects to open bids for traditional bridge construction job at La. 964 in May, agency officials said.
Implementation of a new two-lane $10 million to $11 million La. 67 bridge is expected to start in May or June. Design is nearly complete, DOTD officials said.
The Advocate reports that one of the most visible phases underway is on U.S. 61 near Barnett Road. Under a $55 million Corps of Engineers contract awarded in May, James Construction Group is building new bridges for U.S. 61 and the Kansas City Southern Railroad line and digging out the section of canal that will run under the new bridges.
Traffic and the rail line have been rerouted around the construction sites, the news outlet says.
Nick Sims, assistant deputy district engineer for the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, told The Advocate that the process of purchasing the remaining land for the canal has taken longer than expected and has, in part, been delayed by a hydrological study of the lowland area near the western end of the channel and the Brooks Lake area.
He went on to explain that land acquisition, which DOTD is handling, will likely be completed sometime between June and October, so the final batch of construction contracts are not expected to be awarded until the end of 2021.
Construction on those final phases won't be done until the end of 2022, Sims told The Advocate.
DOTD expects to have all the land purchased by June and one of its representatives said last week that DOTD had bought 57 of the 82 parcels needed so far.
In an effort to reduce construction time and meet that late 2021 deadline that Corps officials reportedly considered "aggressive," the agency decided to build the channel in phases but also have various stages of design, land acquisition, clearing and construction run in parallel to one another, instead of taking one step at a time.
But the timing of one of those phases can impact others.
According to The Advocate, on Monday Graves questioned whether hydrological study was a significant source of delay but believed the standard land purchase process was moving too slowly.
Though DOTD is responsible for this, Graves suggested the Corps has land-acquisition procedures that could be used.
"If you have project like this, where you have a million people or more that are going to end up suffering the consequences of delays, then, you know, like, you've got go ahead and use these tools that were given," Graves said.
The Advocate also reports that corps officials said they are analyzing the Brooks Lake area to see how water diverted through the channel will affect bayous and lands west of the Lilly Bayou Control Structure and so determine how the agency will have to account for all the flood water that will be routed through that area to the Mississippi.
Completed in 2011, the Lilly Bayou Control Structure was the first major piece of the diversion canal that was finished.
The Lilly Bayou Control Structure is located just west of U.S. 61 and its concrete structure will allow water flowing down the future diversion channel to slow down before a 45-foot drop in the natural topography to the bottomlands and bayous closest to the river.
According to Sims, depending on what the hydrological study finds, the Corps may choose to dig a channel to route the water leaving the control structure and headed to the river. He added that the study is expected to wrap up in a couple of months.