The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier Wins the 2014 OCEA Award

March 24, 2014

The largest civil works design-build project in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ history, the $1.35 billion Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) Surge Barrier, was named the winner of the 2014 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement (OCEA) award at this year’s Outstanding Projects and Leaders (OPAL) gala, held March 20 in Arlington, Virginia, at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel. At 2 miles long and 26 feet high, the state-of-the-art barrier is designed to defend against the effects of a future storm surge event in southeast Louisiana’s vulnerable areas from Lake Borgne and the Gulf of Mexico.

The OCEA award, which “recognizes a project that makes a significant contribution to both the civil engineering profession and society as a whole,” is the highest and most prestigious honor ASCE can bestow on an infrastructure project.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina generated an 18-foot storm surge that produced 7-foot waves and overpowered the Mississippi River–Gulf Outlet and Gulf Intercoastal Waterway, ultimately causing the collapse of a 4,000-foot-long section of the floodwall along Louisiana’s Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC). This and other levee and floodwall breaches brought nearly 15 feet of floodwater into many southeastern Louisiana neighborhoods – covering a 90,000-mile area. This catastrophic failure caused a public loss of confidence in the city of New Orleans hurricane and flood control systems.

After this massive storm, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and construct a Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (SDRRS) that would defend against the effects of a future storm surge event that has a 1% chance of occurring any given year. This is known as the 100-year risk reduction.

In accepting the award on behalf of the project team, Lieutenant General Thomas P. Bostick, the Commanding General and Chief of Engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, “It is really overwhelming considering the other nominees, they are great examples of the type of ingenuity and creativity in construction that American civil engineers can execute in this country. We were very honored to be among the five finalists and overwhelmed by this selection.

“Everywhere that I go I talk about this surge barrier and I talk about the example that it shows of what America can do when it prioritizes and puts its mind to it—which unfortunately often happens after natural disasters. And that is what happened after Hurricane Katrina; with the Federal funding, the Congressional support, the local support, and everyone working together—over 300 organizations—to set an example of something that I think will stand the test of time.”

Bostick says some of the challenges faced in designing and constructing the surge barrier were the unpredictable marine environment and the time-constrained construction schedule, which necessitated 24-hour-per-day operations on open water.

“President [George W. Bush] said it would be accomplished and completed by the summer of 2011. There were many naysayers, but working together as a team of teams they pulled off what some people said was impossible. We finished it in August of 2011 and when Hurricane Isaac came through the New Orleans area, it put a test to the barrier. Then to have [Louisiana] Governor [Bobby] Jindal and [Louisiana Senator Mary] Landrieu say that it performed exactly as designed, I think it was a credit to those who bent over backwards to make sure this project was a success.”

The other finalists for the 2014 OCEA award were the Huey P. Long Bridge Widening Project in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; the I-15 Corridor Expansion Project in Utah County, Utah; the Taizhou Bridge in Jiangsu Province, China; and the Tom Lantos Tunnels at Devil’s Slide in San Mateo County, California.

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