New Orleans Nostalgia: Bridging the Gap
The Huey P. Long Bridge
The official invitation to the opening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in 1935. The bridge has been hailed as a groundbreaking engineering achievement and in 2012 was declared a National Historical Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers, joining a short list of 250 worldwide structures including the Panama Canal and the Eiffel Tower. Image provided courtesy of The New Orleans Public Library.
When it opened on December 16, 1935, the Huey P. Long Bridge was the first bridge in New Orleans that provided passage for both automobiles and trains over the Mississippi River. It was also, at the time, the longest railroad bridge in the world.
Designed in the mid-1920s by Polish-American engineer Ralph Modjeski, who has been referred to as America’s greatest bridge builder, the large cost and looming Great Depression delayed construction until late ’32. Governor Long first initiated the bridge as part of a statewide road improvement program, but he never saw its completion, as he was assassinated on September 10, ’35.
The bridge contains a two-track railroad line, as well as two double lanes for auto traffic – with each lane measuring only 9-feet wide – and no shoulders. These almost laughably narrow lanes have been a thorn in the sides of local drivers for generations (and the source of a nickname for the bridge: The Huey P. Narrow).
While the structure remains sound almost 70 years later, bridge-widening improvements began in 2006. The $1.2 billion project will provide new three-lane auto crossings with luxurious 11-foot wide lanes with 8-foot-wide outside and 2-foot-wide inside shoulders, and will be completed in 2013.
Local drivers may notice something missing once the renovations are completed: the mid-bridge jog in the road will no longer be there. One local story explaining this jarring shift claims that during the original construction, each side was begun at the same time and, by the time they got to the middle, they simply didn’t meet up in a straight line. But in truth, the jog was there to accommodate a difference in truss widths, a planned engineering tactic that is too overly technical for this writer to even attempt to understand. F