Impact of La. 1 closure examined

02 28, 2012 by The Advocate

A potential 90-day closure of La. 1 in south Louisiana, the only land route to Port Fourchon, would have an $7.8 billion total economic impact nationally over a 10-year period, according to University of Louisiana at Lafayette researchers.

While making the case for the next phase of the La. 1 elevated highway project, the ULL study considered two probable scenarios: a storm washing out the roadway and the gradual sinking of the coastal highway that leads to the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.

“We looked at the economic impact if this highway were shut down to not only the parish or state, but because of the interdependencies across the entire supply chain, the impact would be felt nationally,” Ramesh Kolluru, director of ULL’s National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies Institute, said Monday.

Ninety percent of all deepwater exploration in the Gulf is supported by Port Fourchon and La. 1 provides the only land route to the port.

On a daily basis, 600 18-wheelers deliver “critical supplies” to the port and 270 vessels access the port, with 25 percent of these ships serving offshore drilling rigs, Kolluru said, adding that “it’s a major artery of industry.”

Over a 10-year period, the La. 1 closure would also mean a loss of 120 million barrels of oil and 250 billion cubic feet of gas and the impact would be greater if a hurricane damaged offshore facilities, according to the study released in December.

Even if deepwater operations were moved west to Texas or east to Alabama, new production and exploration would take a hit, Kolluru said.

“We found that there is no Plan B that is really viable if Port Fourchon closed for 90 days,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security asked the ULL researchers to collaborate with the federal agency’s National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center to explore the economic impact of a potential 90-day closure, Kolluru said.

The findings have been included in two recent federal grant funding applications to secure $18.4 million to begin the second phase of the La. 1 project, Henri Boulet, executive director of the La. 1 Coalition, said Monday.

The $18.4 million covers more than a third of the $45 million needed to continue improvements within the leveed community of Golden Meadow and elevate the roadway over the South Lafourche levee, said Boulet, whose coalition is a nonprofit group of civic and business leaders.

As part of the grant application, the state has committed about $20 million and private industry has donated about $6.6 million, Boulet said.

One of the grants, submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation, was rejected in December. An answer from the Federal Highway Administration is likely in March, Boulet said.

A total of $320 million is needed for the second phase of the La. 1 project: nine miles of elevated road from Golden Meadow to Leeville.

So far, $370 million in work on about 10 miles of roadway to connect Leeville southward to Port Fourchon has been completed.

The total La. 1 project is estimated at more than $1 billion for improvements from Port Fourchon to U.S. 90.

A separate study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration signals another urgency, Boulet said.

The study predicted that a section of La. 1 between Golden Meadow and Leeville will be inundated with high tides more than 30 times per year by the year 2030, Boulet said.

“The U.S. needs to take a hard look at getting this project done. We implored upon them that time and tide are not on our side with La. 1,” Boulet said.

Because a smaller pot of money — about $29 million — is available in the Federal Highway Administration grant program, Boulet said he’s “cautiously optimistic, but not overly confident” about the project’s chances.

A denial would mean the coalition has to consider other funding options.

“We will meet again with Gov. (Bobby) Jindal to see how he wants to proceed forward with completing the project, and what other funding mechanisms can we come up with to achieve at least the $45 million northern segment as soon as possible,” Boulet said.