Partying on the New Huey P.
When a road construction project wraps up, the normal response is a sigh of relief. But the completion of a project to massively expand one of the state’s iconic structures, the Huey P. Long Bridge, is inspiring a celebration.
“We’ve definitely heard a desire from the public to go up there,” says Shane Peck, a spokesman for the state-run project. “There’s a sense of history and the scale of it.”
Of course, the work on the bridge was no ordinary highway project. The $1.2 billion effort effectively doubles the width of the roadways on a combination auto/train bridge that had long tested motorists’ nerves with narrow lanes and close proximity to rumbling freight cars. Three wider lanes now replace two slimmer ones, and there are new approaches on either side of the bridge.
June 16, Father’s Day, marks its official dedication. The day begins with a 5K run/walk over the bridge at 8 a.m., followed by a ribbon cutting at 10:30 a.m. The public will be allowed to walk around on the bridge until about 1 p.m., when it will be opened for traffic. In addition, on June 13, the Louisiana State Museum will host talks about the history of the bridge, the widening project and Huey P. Long himself at its Old U.S. Mint property in the French Quarter.
“The Huey P.,” as it’s widely called, was the first Mississippi River bridge in New Orleans when it opened in 1935. Prior to its construction railroad cars had to be ferried across the river, a time-consuming process that limited the area’s potential as a rail hub.
Today, the state is counting on a bigger, more efficient bridge to spur business development on both sides of the river. The wider bridge will also help speed hurricane evacuations. For all of the economic and practical considerations, though, Peck says the project has stirred something more personal for residents.
“We hear from folks who remember when the bridge first opened. They tell us about seeing it being built or riding bicycles over it,” Peck says. “For younger people, they remember crossing the bridge as a rite of passage after they got their driver’s license. I think there’s an emotional connection people have to something that’s so large and has been part of the area for so long.”