Long-awaited work on La. 42 in Ascension starts

Loretta Templet and Sherri LeBas hugged outside an Ascension Parish library along La. 42 shortly after LeBas, the Louisiana secretary of transportation, announced Tuesday the state will start major work on a long-awaited project to widen the two-lane highway.

Templet’s daughter Mandy Acosta, 18; Acosta’s cousin Brett Leggette, 13; and Leggette’s friend Brett Frederic, 13, were killed in an August 1994 crash on an S-curve on La. 42.

The deaths began a nearly two-decade push by Loretta Templet and her sister Miriam Leggette LaCroix, 63, of Prairieville, who is the mother of Brett Leggette, and various parish officials and legislators to widen La. 42 and improve its safety.

Since that time, La. 42 has become one of the key spokes from which fast-growing Ascension’s suburban development has sprawled, with 22,000 vehicles a day jamming the narrow rural highway.

“It’s a miracle. I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime. I waited 19 years, seven months and five days,” said Templet, 56, of Belle Rose, after the news conference at the Galvez library branch, where LeBas made the announcement with other state and parish officials.

Clearing and grubbing of the 3.7-mile corridor for the new, wider highway and installation of new parish sewer lines begin this week. Wharton-Smith Inc. will handle the $8.7 million clearing phase.

After clearing is finished at the end of the year, the state Department of Transportation and Development plans to build the new four-lane divided section of La. 42 between U.S. 61 and Woodhaven Drive, just east of La. 44.

Parish President Tommy Martinez, who was also parish president in 1994, said the three youths killed in that crash were his children’s classmates.

He said he and others took their concerns about the highway, which was rated the sixth most dangerous in nation at the time, to Congress.

“I promised them (Templet and LaCroix) 20 years ago that this would get done, that I would continue fighting ’til it got done,” he said.

“Hopefully, when we break ground, they’ll have the first two shovels.”

Road construction is estimated to cost another $20 million to $30 million and will be let for bids in September. Construction is projected to be finished in the summer of 2016.

The new project starts as a DOTD project to widen another state highway through another high-growth corridor in Ascension has run into delays.

The $15.5 million project to widen La. 73 southwest of the La. 42 corridor is a year behind schedule and is not expected to be finished until this fall. The two-lane highway is being widened to three lanes.

As is planned for La. 42, DOTD is installing parish sewer lines along La. 73.

The lines are required by health and safety rules. The wider highways will result in the closure of open ditches that capture treated sewer effluent from surrounding businesses and homes.

The underground sewer lines are being installed as part of a new regional parish sewer system planned for the area. Lester Kenyon, parish government spokesman, said Ascension is paying for the sewer lines: about $3.5 million on La. 73 and about $5.2 million on La. 42.

DOTD officials have said the La. 73 project has been hampered by poor weather, tight spaces for construction workers because of limited rights of way and the depths at which the new sewer lines must be laid so waste can move through them by gravity alone.

LeBas said in an interview Tuesday that the La. 42 project should avoid some of those problems. First, she said, the sewer work is being done ahead of and separate from the road work. On La. 73, the both road construction and sewer line installation are part of the same job.

Also, LeBas said, the La. 73 project is largely staying within the existing right of way. Contractors are having to work in small spaces to fit the sewer lines and other utilities.

For La. 42, DOTD purchased more rights of way, spending $17.9 million.

“That’s a big difference,” LeBas said.

In addition to new lanes, La. 42 also will have a 6-foot-wide sidewalk on its north side and a 10-foot-wide path for walkers and bicyclists on the south side.

The highway also will have J-turns to control where drivers can make left turns across both directions of traffic.

State Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, noted during the news conference Tuesday that all elected parish officials agreed a decade ago to make La. 42 Ascension’s top priority with the state. Even leaders of communities not directly on the highway’s path, such as then-Gonzales mayor and current state Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, also backed the plan.

“It’s been a long day coming,” Amedee said.