Let’s Fly Over Already!

When will the airport’s I-10 flyover ramps be a reality and what will they look like? I’ve got the answers.
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home.

On a beautiful spring day in April, I had the pleasure of sitting in my car on Veterans Boulevard for three hours and 15 minutes… without moving. My family had just flown into New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport, and we were trying to head home. Apparently, a truck carrying scrap metal had overturned at the intersection of Loyola Drive and Veterans Boulevard, completely blocking traffic into and out of the airport and surrounding area. We were trapped.

So, we made the best of things. Being New Orleanians, we had a random assortment of Mardi Gras throws in the trunk, so we played frisbee and football. Since the Easter Bunny had serendipitously delivered sidewalk chalk in my son’s basket, we drew on the street, too. We were grateful we were just trying to go home, and not trying to get to the airport and potentially missing flights. Still, I had a lot of time to sit and seethe and wonder when that darn I-10 flyover ramp at Loyola Drive would be complete.

Thankfully, I now have an answer — “Soon.” Well, “early 2023” to be (slightly) more specific.

On a different beautiful spring day in May, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Critical Projects Manager Tim Nickel hosted me for a site visit of the Loyola/I-10 Interchange construction site and introduced me to a few of the people working hard to bring the project to completion. They are, I assure you, working hard.

Infrastructure takes years of advance planning before any of the construction can start. So, when the new North Terminal at MSY was announced in 2015, design of the corresponding I-10 interchange improvements began. To move primary access to the airport to Loyola Drive, DOTD had to plan for phased improvements that included buying 20 parcels of land, demolition of existing buildings, lane widening, creating Louisiana’s first Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI), and building new flyover ramps from I-10 directly to the airport’s new Terminal Drive, which will alleviate traffic.

In January 2018, Federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEE Bonds) were announced for the project, and DOTD began design-build procurement. The interim improvements wrapped in May 2019, and construction on the permanent changes began. In addition to the DDI and flyover ramps, the improvements include 12-foot shoulders on I-10, auxiliary lanes between Williams Boulevard and Loyola Drive, sidewalks on Veterans Boulevard and Loyola Drive to improve pedestrian access, and lighting of the roadways.

The airport and I-10 access there create a gateway for visitors to our region, so an aesthetic design approach was required, which is not typical for DOTD projects. Stantec — an international design and engineering firm — was selected to design the project, including the structures and the landscaping. Gilchrist Construction Company — a Louisiana-based infrastructure company — is the contractor.

The piers, or pillars that support the flyover roadway, will feature an “airstream” motif and incorporate “Louisiana grey” and a shade of blue that is still being determined. The noise barriers will also have a curved and textured detail on them. A Lake Charles-based company will be manufacturing them.

The street lighting on the flyover ramps will use LED bulbs that are programable to change color. The City of New Orleans, which is responsible for the airport, can change the colors to coincide with special events and holidays, another aspect of the design that is particular to this DOTD project.

Louisiana’s first Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) is planned to open this month at the intersection of Veterans and Loyola. This infrastructure is intended to alleviate wait times and traffic at intersections that experience a high volume of left turns. DOTD is creating an explanatory video to help the public learn how to use the DDI – and a video is absolutely needed. DDIs require drivers to cross into what instinctively feels like the wrong side of the road. Look for more information to be posted at dotd.la.gov.

Staffing shortages and supply chain disruptions have complicated things, as is happening across many construction projects in the country right now. But every day, the Loyola/I-10 Interchange construction that began years ago is progressing, and a major milestone in opening the DDI is imminent. Barring major weather events, escalating wars, COVID-19 outbreaks and the apocalypse, Mardi Gras travelers in 2023 should be riding smoothly on the flyover ramps, which will likely be lit up in purple, green and gold.