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Posted: Sunday, 16 June 2013 1:33PM

Huey P. Long Bridge project completed ahead of schedule

The $1.2 billion widening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans was completed today approximately four months ahead of schedule and under budget, according to officials with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Expansion of the 1930s era bridge began in April 2006 shortly after Hurricane Katrina and is the largest transportation construction project in the history of Louisiana.

"Today, we celebrate the rebirth of a great bridge, which symbolizes the continued rebirth of this great city," said Louisiana Secretary of Transportation and Development Sherri H. LeBas. "We are so proud to deliver these amazing infrastructure improvements earlier than promised and under budget."

When the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in 1935, two months after the assassination of the governor for which it is named, it was the longest railroad bridge in the world. The two narrow highway lanes in each direction, however, made it notorious with drivers, some of whom refused to cross the bridge.

The widening project expanded the bridge to three lanes in each direction with shoulders.  The driving surfaces more than doubled from 18 feet wide to 43 feet wide.

"This engineering marvel will be a tremendous asset to our area, providing safe travel and great opportunity for economic development," said Sen. John Alario whose district includes the bridge.

It also remains a vital rail facility for moving people and freight.

"The importance of the bridge cannot be overstated," said New Orleans Public Belt Railroad General Manager Jeffrey D. Davis.  "In one year's time, a total of 393,544 railcars traveled across the bridge. Included in that number were 374,597 freight cars, 16,498 freight locomotives, 1,891 passenger cars and 558 passenger locomotives."

The completion and rededication of the bridge was celebrated in true New Orleans style with a "second line" jazz band leading members of the public up on to the bridge for the cutting of a commemorative ribbon.  A 5K race called "The Great Huey P. Long Bridge Run" kicked-off the celebration and gave participants the opportunity to run or walk across the bridge prior to the ceremony.

"It was appropriate to have a celebration worthy of the innovative nature of this bridge widening project," said Louisiana TIMED Program Director Stephen Spohrer who oversaw construction on the bridge.  "For example, we lifted three steel truss spans into place from barges on the river.  These spans were longer than two football fields.  Each was heavier than twelve locomotives.  This process is now being used on other bridge projects in the U.S."

The completed bridge will be able to carry more than twice the amount of traffic as it could prior to the widening. Before the project, the bridge carried about 50,000 vehicles per day. The new bridge will be able to support over 100,000 vehicles per day.  The increased capacity will make it a greatly improved evacuation route in emergency situations like hurricanes and flooding.

Safety for drivers has also improved through lanes that are each two feet wider; the presence of eight-foot outside and two-foot inside shoulders where there were no shoulders before; and new over pass ramps on each side of the river that allow drivers to "fly over" intersections rather than driving through them.  The additional traffic brought to the area by the improved bridge has also spurred a boom in business and job creation on both the east and west banks of the river.

"My late father and mother and I, along with my Aunt Ollie, traveled across the newly opened Huey P Long bridge when it opened in 1935 after three years of planning in our old black Chevrolet," said Mark "Doc" Parker, MD, who submitted his story to the bridge widening team. "Like new fine wine in splendid old bottles, the ‘Huey P' now lives for generations more to come. Congratulations! Thank you for doing a magnificent job."

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