It was a great day in the 1930s when the Huey P. Long Bridge was opened.
After years of waiting in the ferry line to access the big city next door, we suddenly had a drive through structure that was a marvel in its early days. Not only did cars have easy access over the mighty divide but trains could chug up the incline and make it to their downtown stations much more quickly.
That was then. Now, the Huey is looked upon almost as a relick, necessary for access to the western perimeters of New Orleans but many years out of date. As cars and other vehicles got wider, its narrow lanes without shoulders have remained the same. It is amazing that more wrecks have not occurred there with cars scraping one another trying to pass in the 9-foot lanes.
We often wondered if the original bridge planners had anticipated use of the bridge by today’s bumper to bumper traffic, including many 18-wheelers filled with cargo plus two trains going in opposite directions pulling umpteen loaded freight cars. It made us shudder every time we got to the top of the outdated structure.
Now, work has started on widening the bridge to three 11-foot lanes plus an 8-foot shoulder on the outside and a 2-foot shoulder on the inside going in each direction. That will certainly improve driving across the almost decrepit structure. But the question is, how much more traffic will its foundation support?
According to Timothy Todd, spokesman on the project, work is now being done on enlarging the piers that support the bridge. Work on the driving lanes and shoulders will start later.
Traffic crossing the bridge will be restricted to one lane in each direction for six to eight weeks beginning in fall of 2007. So it may be advisable to consider using the Hale Boggs Bridge or Crescent City Connection during that period.
After that, finishing work is scheduled to be completed in 2011. And it should be a big boon to the development of the western part of the metropolitan area.
The Huey P. Long Bridge is an historic structure, being one of the first to span the Mighty Mississippi. But we’re sure Huey would forgive us for changing it a bit to meet the modern-day demands we have put on it.