Addition of a third lane on each side of I-10 between Vinton and Sulphur is under way, with completion of the $36 million project expected by July 2006, according to the Department of Transportation and Development.
Diamond B is the prime contractor for the project, which consists of cold-planing and overlaying the outside shoulder, reconstructing the existing traffic lanes, and constructing a third lane on each side, according to Bobby Hennigan, District 7 administrator for DOTD.
Construction of the additional lanes will contribute to DOTD’s long-range goal of expanding I-10 to six lanes thoughout Calcasieu Parish as part of the national freight corridor plan. The project has been reviewed and approved by the Federal Highway Administration.
Nearly $200,000 of additional infrastructure costs is included in the 10-mile project to protect 36 existing live oak trees along a 3-mile section, Hennigan said.
Six retaining walls will be constructed to protect tree root systems at a cost of $134,000. Six additional guardrails will be installed at a cost of $47,000 to protect the trees.
“DOTD is doing everything it can to be environmentally sensitive while being fiscally responsible,” said Hennigan.
Despite DOTD’s best efforts, however, the project will require the removal of 21 live oak trees, including a 7-foot-diameter, 150-year-old live oak in the median that is diseased, a safety threat and in the direct line of construction.
The department will replace the trees with 44 new live oak plantings next winter, and 36 standing live oaks will remain unharmed along that section of the road, Henningan said.
“We sincerely regret having to remove these trees, especially the large one, and that’s why we’re planting double the current amount,” Hennigan said. “Unfortunately, the department had no choice.”
The largest tree that will be removed, registered in 1988 with the Live Oak Society and located west of Mile Marker 17, has been deemed a public safety hazard. It has a “split leader,” meaning that it has multiple stems in its trunk rather than a single, sturdier trunk. Additionally, the tree was hit by an 18-wheeler and affected by an ice storm in the 1990s, and it now has a large split in its trunk along with evidence of carpenter ant damage and decay. It has about 8 inches of sound wood at its base, but is hollow inside.
“Unfortunately,” arborist Randy Harris said in a letter dated May 18 to DOTD, “the only safe thing to do for the safety of the public and the use of the roadway is removal of the tree.”
Motorists are encouraged to proceed with extreme caution through the area during construction. Variable message boards will keep the public updated and will advise drivers of exits for alternate routes.
DOTD’s Motorist Assistance Patrol will travel the area between Vinton (Exit 8) and Sulphur (Exit 20) from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Two Louisiana State Police units will assist during peak traffic hours.