The history of La. 1 in southern Lafourche Parish, in many ways, mirrors the history of economic development in the region. Built in the 1930s, the highway largely served to bring people in their Model T Fords to Grand Isle for recreation.
And as 10/12 Industry Report details in a feature in the new quarterly issue, Bayou Lafourche was not much more than a channel crossing fairly inaccessible land. Then, in 1960, the State Legislature authorized building a port in the marsh in an attempt to attract New Orleans’ lucrative banana trade.
Although the banana industry never came, the energy industry did. Over the next 50 years, Port Fourchon—Louisiana’s southernmost port—grew and developed to become the prime hub for domestic deepwater oil and gas exploration, drilling, and production in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, La. 1 supports 18% of the nation’s daily oil production and serves 90% of deepwater projects in the Gulf.
The roadway serves as the lone land route to Port Fourchon and provides the sole highway access to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the nation’s only offshore oil port. As such, the two-lane highway experiences significant industry traffic. According to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the average daily traffic count for La. 1 between Port Fourchon and Golden Meadow was approximately 10, 000 in 2015. Industrial vehicles account for approximately 20% of La. 1’s traffic. Yet the highway was not built to handle either this volume or this type of traffic.
“La. 1 is critical to Port Fourchon and to the business and industry in the port, ” says Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. “It’s our only road access to the port, so it’s critical to the port’s ability to service the oil and gas industry.”
At the same time, La. 1 is essential to the state’s commercial and recreational fishing industries and is vital for providing access for coastal restoration projects in Lafourche Parish and Grand Isle. La. 1 also is the only highway evacuation route for Grand Isle and Port Fourchon.
While the demands on La. 1 south of Thibodaux have risen, the road itself has been sinking. Coastal erosion, sea-level rise and ground subsidence have contributed to the highway’s vulnerability, with the road flooding even during low-level storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that by 2027, inundation levels will result in closing a seven-mile section of the existing at-grade highway between Golden Meadow and Leeville for more than 30 days per year. In less than 40 years, this portion of La. 1 will be covered in water and impassable for more than 300 days per year.
When access to and from the port is cut off, the impact quickly reverberates nationwide. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concluded that a 90-day closure of the existing section of La. 1 between Golden Meadow and Leeville could result in up to a $7.8 billion loss in American gross domestic product.