|Jefferson Parish Bike Path along Lake Pontchartain could be finished by end of 2013|
More than 35 years after it was built, the paved path along Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish now has a safe way to cross Causeway Blvd.The underpass at the south end of the Causeway Bridge, part of a complete redesign of the Causeway approach, is now finished allowing cyclists, walkers, skaters, runners and others on the paved path along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish to cross under Causeway Blvd., avoiding the heavy traffic it carries.
By the end of this year (2013), the entire length of the 10-mile trail, from Bucktown, near the Orleans Parish line to the canal at the St. Charles Parish line will be open, said Fran Campbell, executive director of the East Jefferson Levee District.
About seven miles of the aphalt path is complete, and it looks to be smooth enough for wheelchair use. However to connect the trail at the Bonnabel pumping station where the bridge is in the construction zone and closed, trail users have to cross the levee and detour around the pumping station using streets in the adjacent neighborhood. A detour using Bonnabel Blvd., Poplar and Metairie Court adds about a mile to the trip making a ride connecting the completed sections of the trail--from the eastern trail terminus at Bucktown to Laketown in Kenner-- about eight miles long, including the detour. Bikes have to be pushed through the grass over a steep levee at Metairie Ct.
Near the western end of the path, the trail bridge at the Duncan Canal, west of the Laketown recreation park on the lake in Kenner, is also closed because of construction to the pumping station there. Campbell said construction at both pumping stations will finish before the end of the year and the bridges will reopen.
Part of a 2.4 mile section of the path, west of the Duncan canal to the St. Charles Parish line, was repaired by Jefferson Parish work crews after Hurricane Katrina but is not accessible now because of the closed bridge at the Duncan Canal, Campbell said.
Bridges at the Elmwood and Suburban pumping stations are open.
PATH HAS BEEN WORK IN PROGRESS FOR DECADES
Over the years the trail has been a work in-progress. When first opened the path ran at the edge of the lake most of its length. It now runs on higher ground yards from the lake through what used to be a scrub forest of hackberry, tallow, black willow, elderberry, live oak and cypress trees. This environment along with its understory of weeds and grasses, supported a wildlife population of racoons, marsh rabits, mice, snakes and rats along with numerous song birds and other birdlife.
When the path was first paved, in the mid 1970's, it was considered complete despite having no bridges crossing the four pumping station outfall canals on its route, requiring trail users to detour through adjacent neighborhoods to complete the trail from end to end.
The path's paving abruptly ended at Chickasaw St. forcing riders to walk over the levee and continue east on Old Hammond Highway to avoid the rough and sometimes muddy unmarked path at the levee's toe. The path's informal eastern terminus was the 17th Street Canal and a pedestrian bridge over it--about where the Army Corps of Engineers pumping station is now. It was not until after hurricane Katrina--almost 30 years after the trail was constructed--that the trail was completed to Bucktown.
More seriously, trail users faced a dangerous situation where the trail crossed the Causeway approach to the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway at the bridge's south end. With no underpass, overpass or traffic control devices allowing trail users to avoid the heavy Causeway traffic, trail users wanting to connect the east and west sections of the popular path usually dashed across the six lanes of traffic dodging the traffic while pushing or carrying their bicycles. Other trail users would try to cross Causeway at a cross street but the lack of pedestrian crossings made this crossing just as risky as crossing at the levee.
Some path sections now have a parallel path for walkers and joggers. There are no shaded rest stops along the trail now, just a few benches. Drinking water is available at the playground at the Bonnabel boat launch and at Laketown. There is parking at Laketown, the Bonnabel boat launch and at Bucktown. Paved access paths zig-zag cross the high levee connecting the trail with adjoining neighborhoods but there is no parking there.
The current levee in Jefferson Parish along Lake Pontchartrain was built in 1947 after a ferocious hurricane caused extensive property damage in the parish.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CAUSEWAY CROSSING
From a window in his office in a nearby highrise, Ken Hollis, former state senator from District 9, saw a mother pushing a baby carriage on the trail, try to cross the six lanes of traffic at the Causeway approach. The danger she faced so alarmed him that he began to look for a way to fix the lack of a safe crossing for users of the bike path at the south Causeway approach.
In March of 1997 a loop under the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway was built between the levee and the lake. Because there was little rise to the Causeway coming off the levee, to allow headroom for trail users, the loop had to be built at about the level of the water in the lake. The loop was protected from flooding by a rock wall. However the loop had to be closed frequently because it was often flooded with either lake water or rain water. A pump was installed to pump out the water but after several attempts to get it to work it continued failing to keep the path dry enough to use. Finally the loop was closed permanently and path users were back to dodging traffic on Causeway.
|Cyclists and pedestrians no longer have to contend with crossing six lanes of traffic thanks to this Causeway Blvd. overpass completed a year ago.|