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$907.8M, 21-Part Comite River Diversion Canal Project Reduces Flood Risks as Baton Rouge Expands

by: Julie Devine
Work takes place in early March 2023 on a section of the Comite River Division Channel near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
Work takes place in early March 2023 on a section of the Comite River Division Channel near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development
As the growing population in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, expands the metropolitan area, development has stretched into the floodplain of the Comite River Basin. Occasional flooding that previously occurred in swampland or largely wooded areas with only scattered agricultural usage now impacts many more people.

To reduce the risk of urban flood damage, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began construction in 2020 on the $907.8 million Comite River Diversion Canal project in East Baton Rouge Parish. During heavy rainfall events, the new 12-mile-long canal will siphon water from the Comite River, a tributary of the Amite River, and send it to the Mississippi River.

Since 2018, the project’s design and construction have been federally funded under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. Prior to that, USACE covered 75 percent of the cost and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD) funded the remaining portion.

21 Parts
Due to the quantity and variety of work needed, USACE divided the Comite River Diversion Canal project into 21 separate contracts. Eighteen of those are overseen by USACE and the other three by LaDOTD. (See “Project Status” for details of each contract.)

Six of the USACE-led contracts involved clearing and snagging to prepare for construction. Their remaining 12 contracts cover four main channel segments, two vehicular bridges, one railroad bridge, three rock chutes, and two diversion structures.

For all but one of their contracts, USACE used a low-bid process. Because of the complexity of construction at U.S. Highway 61 – with two vehicular bridges and one Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroad bridge – they awarded a best-value contract for that project, taking into consideration the contractor’s plan of construction, schedule, past performance, and capability.

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As of summer 2023, eight of USACE’s contracts are complete, four are ongoing, and six are yet to be awarded.

Along the state highways that cross the diversion channel, LaDOTD is handling construction on three vehicular bridges and one railroad bridge. Work on all three contracts is underway. LaDOTD awarded a low-bid contract for one of the projects and used Construction Management at Risk (CMAR) delivery on the other two.

“[CMAR] provided for the contractor to be involved in the preconstruction/design phase and cost out risk,” said Rodney Mallett, LaDOTD’s Communications Director. “If you compare the cost of LA 67 ($12.5 million) to the very similar LA 964 bridge project ($21.9 million), you can see the significant cost savings.”

Among the factors that made the two CMAR projects more cost-efficient is the decision to drive piles before excavating, Mallett said.

With the two agencies overseeing concurrent work at multiple sites throughout the project corridor, “The USACE and DOTD teams communicate daily to maintain safe site conditions and to coordinate activities,” said Bobby Duplantier, USACE’s Senior Project Manager.

Geotextile, Stone, and Concrete
In designing the diversion canal, USACE specified a 3 on 1 slope. The channel depth varies slightly, but generally runs 50 feet deep.

In total, crews on USACE-led projects will excavate 9 million cubic yards of material. Construction of the diversion channel includes geotextile material, bedding stone, and R90 stone. Grouted rip rap supports some areas.

At the three bayous in the project footprint, rock chutes will deposit overflow from flood events into the new diversion channel. The rock chutes are lined with rip rap and R650 stone.

The project also includes two control structures.

“The Lilly Bayou control structure will control the flows from the diversion channel to move the water to the Mississippi River,” Duplantier said. “The second diversion structure will divert water from the Comite River to the new diversion channel. Since the project is designed to be gravity-fed, these structures consist of concrete weirs.”

Dealing with Delays
As work progresses, “Construction challenges have mainly been due to site conditions,” Duplantier said.

For instance, at the Comite River diversion structure, “Updated geotechnical data identified uplift pressure concerns,” he said. “This required a design update to H-piles and the addition of concrete to address the concerns.”

During construction of the channel segments, “Differing soil layers have required additional effort to maintain the channel slope stability,” Duplantier said. “We’re using a combination of dewatering systems, sand filters, and a weighted filter. The final design will have the sand areas held in place using geotextile, bedding stone, and rip rap.”

Ironically for a project designed to reduce flooding, a lack of rain delayed some work.

“The existing contracts have definitely seen an impact from the low Mississippi River levels,” Duplantier said. “The R90 rip rap being used to line the channel has been delivered primarily via barge, and there have been a few schedule impacts due to not being able to deliver those materials.”

In addition, utility relocations delayed parts of the project. To minimize impacts, “USACE is using various sequencing strategies to maintain construction schedules,” Duplantier said.

The overall project remains on schedule to finish in the first quarter of 2025. However, “This date is highly dependent on all remaining utility relocations being completed on time,” Duplantier said.

Key Project Personnel
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Nick Sims, Assistant Deputy District Engineer; Bobby Duplantier, Senior Project Manager; Tommy Hoke, Lead Engineer
  • Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development – Christina Brignac, Critical Projects Manager
Project Status
USACE oversees the majority of construction for the Comite River Diversion Canal project. In addition to clearing and snagging, their contracts include:
Brooks Lake Closure Structure
Scheduled to award in mid-2024, this project will construct an earthen closure feature to channel water from the Lilly Bayou control structure to the Mississippi River.
U.S. Highway 61/KCS Bridges
James Construction Group of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, started work in June 2020 and reached substantial completion in May 2023. They built 300-foot northbound and southbound Highway 61 bridge spans, as well as a 300-foot span of the KCS railroad bridge. Construction also included a section of diversion channel to connect the Lilly Bayou control structure to Channel Segment 1.
Channel Segment 1
Scheduled to award in early 2024, this project will construct 1.33 miles of the channel between Highway 61 and Bayou Baton Rouge.
Bayou Baton Rouge Rock Chute
USACE expects to award this contract in early 2024, dependent on utility relocations. This project will construct a 1,500-foot-long rock chute and 3,500 feet of diversion channel connecting Channel Segment 1 and Channel Segment 2A.
Channel Segment 2A
RIGID Constructors of Lafayette, Louisiana, started work in October 2021 to build a one-mile-long section of the diversion channel from Cypress Bayou to Highway 964. The project is expected to finish in October 2023.
Channel Segment 2B
Currently awaiting utility relocation, this project will construct 1,300 feet of diversion channel.
Cypress Bayou Rock Chute
Young’s General Contracting of New Orleans started work in January 2022 to build the 1,500-foot-long chute that will deposit water from Cypress Bayou into the diversion channel. The project is expected to finish in November 2023.
Channel Segment 3
Currently awaiting utility relocation, this project will construct approximately one mile of diversion channel between Highway 19 and McHugh Road.
McHugh Road Bridge
Coastal Contractors, Inc., of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, started work in February 2021 and reached substantial completion in April 2023. They built a 300-foot-long McHugh Road bridge span and a diversion channel segment that will connect Channel Segment 3 to Channel Segment 4.
White Bayou Rock Chute
Lakey, Inc., of Lufkin, Texas, started work in June 2021 to construct the 1,500-foot-long chute that will deposit water from White Bayou into the diversion channel. This project is expected to finish in December 2023.
Channel Segment 4
Bristol General Contractors of Alexandria, Louisiana, started work in April 2021 to build a 1.5-mile-long section of the diversion channel from McHugh Road to Highway 67. This project is expected to finish in September 2023.
Comite River Diversion Structure
Contract award awaits completion of LaDOTD’s Louisiana (LA) 67 bridge project (see below), since the contractor’s bypass road lies within this project’s footprint. When complete, the new concrete weir will allow floodwater from the Comite River to enter the diversion channel.

LaDOTD oversees three contracts for the Comite River Diversion Canal project:

LA 964 Highway Bridge
Awarded to Brown Industrial of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in March 2021 with a 550-day contract.
LA 67 Highway Bridge
Awarded to Boh Bros. Construction Co. of New Orleans in March 2021 with a 396-day contract.
LA 19 Highway Bridge and Geaux Railroad Bridge
Awarded to Boh Bros. Construction Co. of New Orleans in December 2022 with a 640-day contract.
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