Work proceeds on 3 fronts to return Lakeshore Dr to former glory

This is a big day for people anxious to see the New Orleans lakefront return to what it once was. For the first time since Katrina, fresh water is available on the lake side of the levee as work continues to make flood protection stronger than ever.

Ever since Katrina, Lakeshore Drive has been a bit rough. Mud and dirt covers the roadway ever since the last storm. Now, work to return Lakeshore Drive to its former grandeur is making headway on three fronts.

"For the first time in seven and a half years there's fresh water on the lake side of the levee... my understanding, for the first time since Katrina, we have running water," said Ron Deichman with Waterworks International.

That will help get Mardi Gras Fountain back in shape, perhaps by the Fourth of July.

"We will add animation, LED lighting with bulbs that will last 10 years. It will be a lot more efficient to run the lights," Deichman said.

While the fountain will be appreciated, there are much bigger projects underway. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is paying to run utilities over the levee in 14 spots, wherever there's dirt showing. That includes not just water, but also electrical and sewer lines. The utility crossings are expected to be finished mid-July.

But the big project is the $6.3 million seawall cap, paid for by Orleans taxpayers. Phase one is well underway near the West End Lighthouse.

The Orleans Levee Board has been dealing with a bad situation for a long time, washing away the dirt onto Lakeshore Drive and shutting it down. The new cap will keep the soil in place and Lakeshore open.

It wasn't an issue before, and it's easy to see why. The water level in 1930, when the sea wall was built, came to the 13th step. And now the water peaks at to the seventh step.

Workers are also paving the parking lots behind the shelters, which could reopen within the next six months, thanks to the new electrical, sewer and water lines.

"For us to keep Lakeshore Drive open and the shelters, it's going to be a big boost to the city," said Tim Doody with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.

Levee board officials insist that within the year, Lakeshore Drive will look better, much like it once did.  And the improvements will go a long way toward improving the experience for bicycle enthusiasts.  Cyclists we spoke with are pleased.

"I'll enjoy it when it's done, it will be beautiful when it's done," said Rachel Schultz.

Levee officials say the improvements will beef up a system that seems to fight more floods, year after year.

The first phase of this project will cover the area, while the second phase will cover the seawall from Franklin Avenue east to Shelter Number 4.