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Contact: Christine Payton Dec. 13, 2011
(337) 482-6397, payton@louisiana.edu
La. Highway 1 threads its way through the coastal marsh toward the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the United States’ most valuable — and vulnerable —assets. Researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are working to help protect it.

The road is the only land route to Port Fourchon, which supports 16 percent of the nation’s energy production. It is also the sole evacuation route for about 35,000 people, including offshore workers and coastal residents.

The highway floods regularly. Since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck, it has been overtopped and closed to traffic numerous times.

Some improvements have been made. A $161 million toll bridge, about seven miles north of the port, opened in 2009. And a $143 million, 6.8-mile section of elevated highway is expected to open this month.

But business and government leaders in Lafourche Parish, where the port is located, say that’s not enough. They’re seeking a total of $1.5 billion to improve 60 miles of highway; the project would include about 19 miles of elevated roads.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security turned to experts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to help quantify the potential economic loss that flooding could cause. Researchers with UL Lafayette’s National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies Institute collaborated with the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center within the Department of Homeland Security.

NIMSAT researchers analyzed historical data to predict what would happen if the port were shut down for 90 days because of highway flooding. Researchers considered two possible scenarios: the roadway being washed out by a strong storm and the highway becoming gradually submerged by rising sea levels.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released the results of the study last week. Damage to the highway would shut down the port, which could result in a reduction of up to $7.8 billion in economic losses.

“ Loss of access to Port Fourchon would have a significant impact not only Louisiana’s economy, but on the national economy,” said Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, director of the NIMSAT and vice president for Research at UL Lafayette.

"Through this unique partnership, we have been able to develop an analytically robust and objective analysis of the importance of LA-1 and Port Fourchon to the nation. We believe the study provides the ammunition that our elected officials need to make the definitive business case for investments into LA-1.”

Document last revised Wednesday, December 14, 2011 12:17 PM

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