Parish, DOTD in dispute over project delay

An Ascension Parish government inspector found problems with the way a state highway contractor installed 800 feet of new parish sewer lines along La. 73 this summer as part of a road-widening project, parish officials said.

The catch likely saved parish government money long term and prevented the newly installed lines from causing major sewer backups once in use, officials said.

But state highway and parish government officials disagree whether that problem contributed to ongoing delays in the $15.5 million road project begun in fall 2011.

Earlier this month, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced the project would not be finished until June 2014, about five months after the previously announced end date.

DOTD is widening La. 73 from two to three lanes and adding shoulders between Interstate 10 and U.S. 61 in Prairieville. DOTD also is installing lines for a new parish sewer system at parish cost of more than $3 million.

DOTD officials have attributed the slowdown to the tight confines involved with the project in combination with difficulties in routing utilities and taking care to avoid live oaks along the 2.3-mile-stretch of highway. The project has a narrow right-of-way corridor.

But DOTD officials did not identify incorrectly installed sewer lines as contributing to the delay and have since disputed that the lines did.

“In response to your question, there was some remedial work performed on the sewer lines, but it has not resulted in any delays on the project,” Indira Parrales, DOTD spokeswoman, said in an email.

Jason Taylor, chief engineer for parish government, said “the very tight working environment” is certainly a key part of the problem. But he said the sewer line problem and the repairs likely delayed the project about a month. He said last week that the project was just getting back to where it should have been when the problem was found in July.

“I just know that my portion of it has contributed to about a month delay,” Taylor said. “Things happen. Schedules are difficult to maintain, especially in that type of environment.”

The sewer lines, which will operate by gravity and are supposed to have a natural drop progressively deeper into the ground, were installed so that they drop too steeply down into the ground.

Taylor said in that instance, water in the sewage out-runs the solid material in the waste, causing it to dry and back up the lines.

“That’s what we were trying to avoid. If we wouldn’t have done this, you’d have had problems with this backing up every week or two. It just would be very bad,” Taylor said.

Parrales said the project delays were related to the tight confines of the project only.

“The corrective work to fix the slope of the drains is a recent issue that was fixed and has not delayed the DOTD project,” she said.

She speculated that the monthlong delay the parish is speaking of may be the time from when the issue was reported to when the repair work was finished. She said the contractor, which is Barber Brothers Contracting Co. LLC, took a week to a week and half to do the repairs.

Ascension’s Taylor said a very tight window exists to set the line’s correct slope, about three inches of fall for every 1,000 feet horizontally. He said the contractor acknowledged the problem and fixed the lines at no additional cost to the parish.