BELLE CHASSE, La. -- The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is dividing the northbound lanes of Hwy. 23 in central Plaquemines Parish. In a week or so, the southbound lanes will be shut down, and there will be two-way traffic on the northbound side.
That's for a $10 million project to raise a low-lying portion of the main hurricane evacuation route.
"This project is very exciting. It has been long needed, and we never thought it would really happen," said state Rep. Chris Leopold, R-Belle Chasse.
Storm surges flooded a stretch of Hwy. 23 during Hurricane Isaac last year and Hurricane Ike in 2008, when vehicles had to use the Mississippi River levee in convoys to reach lower Plaquemines Parish.
"Driving on top of the levee, only 10 to 20 miles per hour, needs lots of concentration," was the description of the convoys after Ike.
"I'm frightened of that, so I stayed gone maybe about three extra days," said Rose Wise of Fremin's Food Market.
At Fremin's Food Market in Port Sulphur, raising the road is seen as a critical step in hurricane resistance.
"It's my home. It's where I want to be," said Rose. "It's paradise."
"I like raising the road, and if they raise up the levee, I would like it even more," said Malinda Barthelemy.
Plans are to raise the southbound lanes about two feet. It won't prevent all floods, but the higher road is expected to re-open faster. Leopold calls it economic development.
"The residents and businesses in the area south of the improvement should be able to return much, much sooner," said Leopold.
The project is scheduled to take about six to eight months, so it should be completed just after the first of the year.
State officials say they are working on plans in case an evacuation is needed during the construction period.