Ascension’s La. 73 widening project runs into delays

State highway officials have pushed back the completion date of a $15.5 million project to widen busy La. 73 in Ascension Parish to June, making it about eight months later than the original target date given when construction began in the fall of 2011.

The contractor is having trouble with tight spaces involved in the Prairieville-area project that is also complicated by efforts to protect large oak trees along the highway, state Department of Transportation and Development officials said Wednesday.

Barber Brothers Contracting Co. LLC is widening narrow La. 73 from two lanes to three and adding shoulders. As part of the job, the company has to find space for utility line relocations and new drainage infrastructure within tight confines.

“This becomes more challenging when new drainage structures have to be installed without disturbing existing utility lines and attempting to preserve large oak trees in the area,” Indira Parrales, DOTD spokeswoman, said in an email.

Part of the project also involves laying down new parish sewer lines.

The project has been underway since late October 2011. As the work has progressed, traffic has been snarled in the already congested, 2.3-mile stretch of highway between Interstate 10 and Airline Highway.

Imran Bashar, 25, owner of the Village Market & Deli gasoline station on La. 73, said the roadwork has reduced his business by 75 percent. He said a further delay stretching into 2014 will not help.

“That is going hurt us so bad,” Bashar said.

He said he had his doubts the project will be finished even by the new end date, based on what he can see.

“If it’s a year, I’ll be glad; actually, but I do not think so,” he said.

Ascension Parish Councilwoman Teri Casso said the project “has proven to be much more complicated than was originally thought, and that’s unfortunate.”

But she said she believes most residents understand road construction can be frustrating and realize that it is hard to know what construction crews may encounter when they have to dig up a road that has been in place for decades.

“In the end, when it’s done, it may be worth it. I’m only willing to say ‘may,’ ” Casso said.

She said she thinks the state should have added more lanes for increased traffic capacity.

But available dollars and the cost of rights of way led officials to pursue the three-lane project instead.

Parrales said the project had hit earlier delays due to weather and utility relocations. She said DOTD moved back the finish date to January 2014 when actual road construction began in January 2012 as issues signaling delays first arose.

But at least as late as mid-January 2013, the DOTD website said the end date for the entire project remained the original completion target of fall 2013, The Advocate reported at the time.

Parrales said the delays have not added to the cost of the project and DOTD has given the contractor more time to finish.