Louisiana Oil Road to Be Lifted Above Sea Level

The U.S. government has just released its first assessment of how global warming could affect roads, rail lines, ports and airports along the nation's coasts. But along the Gulf Coast, rising sea levels aren't the only worry: The land is sinking, too.

The world's oceans are rising, partly because of melting glaciers — and partly because seawater expands as it gets warmer. Within a century, sea levels are expected to rise one or two feet, and maybe more.

The water could rise twice as fast along parts of Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast.

Fifty miles south of New Orleans, where the Bayou Lafourch meets the Gulf of Mexico, lies a seaport, Port Fourchon. The port supplies thousands of oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf that provide roughly 17 percent of the nation's oil supply.

A new federal study of climate change and transportation says that over the next 50 to 100 years, the water along the Gulf will probably rise between two and four feet.

The Federal Highway Administration's Michael Savonis is overseeing the study. Earlier this year, he presented preliminary findings about what could happen if the sea level rises four feet.

Summing it up, he said, "25 percent of your major roadways, almost three-fourths of your freight facilities at ports, and eight airports, including New Orleans International, could be flooded. Permanently."

Savonis said intense storms are likely to hit the Gulf Coast more often, allowing storm surges to inundate swaths of coastline two counties deep.

The government has just released the first phase of the study for scientists to review. Officials at the Department of Transportation point out that its conclusions could change. But back at the road leading to Port Fourchon, Ted Falgout isn't taking any chances.

This two-lane road there is the port's lifeline. It's just two feet above sea level — and it already gets flooded when there's a storm, Falgout says.

The state is replacing the existing road with something five times more expensive — a road that is suspended 20 feet above sea level, down to the port.

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