‘Huffing and puffing,’ contractor struggles with delays on La. 73

A $15.5 million project to widen La. 73 in Ascension Parish, already projected to be finished a year later than its original end date of October 2013, won’t be finished for another eight to 10 months.

State highway officials said this week the project is running into some of the same problems that caused past delays: rain, trouble fitting utilities in tight rights of way and unforeseen sewer work not in the original plans.

“The estimated completion date for the La. 73 widening project is the second quarter of 2015,” Dustin Annison, state Department of Transportation and Development spokesman, said Wednesday.

The project had previously been set to be finished in October after past delays pushed back the end date. The second quarter stretches from April to June.

The project involves widening two-lane La. 73 into a three-lane highway over a 2.3-mile stretch between Airline Highway and the Interstate 10/La. 621 interchange. A key route just east of I-10 between Dutchtown and Prairieville, the highway cuts through a zone of suburban growth.

Converted by the construction into a dusty, snarled thoroughfare, the highway is lined with orange traffic cones and “closed road” signs as vehicles move over a patchwork of asphalt.

Israr Bashar, 28, who helps run his family’s Village Market & Deli along La. 73, said the project is going on three years and has really hurt business, as well as fouled store air-conditioners with dust and roughed up the tires and wheel alignment of his car. He was philosophical about the new delay, however.

“I can’t do nothing about that. I mean that’s what they say. We have to listen. We have no choice,” Bashar said with a laugh on Thursday.

“They can’t leave it like this, or they have to finish it as soon as they can.”

The La. 73 job began in October 2011, though actual road construction started in January 2012, DOTD officials have said in the past. DOTD’s new projected end date is later than parish officials had been informed earlier this week.

Parish engineer Jason Taylor told the Parish Council Transportation Committee on Tuesday the project would be delayed until mid-December but added he suspected it might take until March.

Councilwoman Teri Casso, who sits on the roads committee and whose constituents have been affected by the road project, said in an interview Thursday she is not surprised to learn about an even later finish date than was reported.

“I don’t know if they know when the project is going to be finished. Let’s hope by the summer (of 2015). It’s mind-boggling to me they are not working on the weekends and nights,” Casso said. “Whatever you’ve got to do to get it done.”

Councilman Chris Loar raised that point during the Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday.

Taylor told Loar, however, that Barber Brothers Contracting Co. has a 600-day contract, has received sizable extensions from DOTD due to weather and other delays and remains within the contract term.

“Additional days have been added to the contract to compensate for delays caused by issues that were outside of the contractor’s control,” DOTD’s Annison added in a later interview.

Annison said Barber Brothers has a calendar-day contract, in which companies bid on the time when they bid on the project.

Lee Barber, co-owner of Barber Brothers, said Friday the bid was based on working on weekdays and added he is limited to working between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Consistently working on the weekend would mean paying overtime not built into the contract price, he said, though the company does work on Saturdays to make up rain days lost during the week.

He added the biggest reason the end date was moved to the second quarter of 2015 was accumulated rain days, adding something like 84 days.

At the same time, Barber said the underground utilities and sewer lines, which the parish was required to pay to install under state health rules, were a mess to handle as well.

Barber said he understands residents’ frustrations.

“It’s been a booger for all of us. I can tell you, it ain’t been any fun,” Barber said.

He said the sewer work was finished about two weeks ago, predicted residents would start seeing more signs of progress but warned the new timeline is still a tough one.

“We’re still going to be huffing and puffing to make it. It’s still going to be tight for us to get through,” Barber said.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.