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Crescent City Connection (New Orleans, LA)

The Crescent City Connection is a massive dual-span steel truss bridge that spans the lower Mississippi River at downtown New Orleans, about 95 river miles upstream from the mouth of the great river at the Head of Passes Light. If counted as a single bi-directional highway bridge, the parallel spans combine to form the single busiest bridge on the Mississippi River and its importance as a linchpin in the region’s transportation network cannot be overstated. While there have been various schemes over the years to construct bridges downriver from Algiers Point, this bridge has been the southernmost bridge on the Mississippi River since its initial construction in the 1950s.

The years immediately following the end of World War II were a transformational period in the history of New Orleans. Already one of the great economic and cultural centers of the American Deep South, it was recognized at this time that major changes and improvements to the city’s transportation infrastructure would be needed for the region to remain competitive economically and to accommodate the anticipated commercial and residential growth in southeast Louisiana in the coming decades. In 1946, the city commissioned Robert Moses, famous as the master planner of New York City, to make recommendations for future projects that would enable the city and region to handle and manage this forecasted growth. His report, the Arterial Plan for New Orleans, was a watershed document in the history of the city in that many of the proposals laid out in it were ultimately constructed and serve as the backbones for the city’s highway and waterway transportation systems to this day. The centerpiece of his plan was the placement of a new Mississippi River Bridge connecting downtown with Algiers. Other highways, such as a Westbank Expressway serving the growing suburbs off Gretna and Marrero, and the Pontchartrain Expressway intended to serve as a cross-town expressway between the river and the lake, were planned as the primary feeder routes for the new bridge. A third connecting highway, the Riverfront Expressway, was also planned but was ultimately never constructed. (That's a story for another day.)


This artist's rendering from the 1946 Arterial Plan for New Orleans showcases the placement of the proposed Mississippi River Bridge and its connecting expressways in downtown New Orleans. This bridge was constructed in the 1950s as the Greater New Orleans Bridge. Notice the "circle" interchange that was initially envisioned to connect the bridge with the planned north-south Riverfront Expressway.

Acting on the recommendations of the 1946 Master Plan, the Louisiana state legislature created the Mississippi River Bridge Authority in 1952, which was tasked with overseeing the planning, construction, and operation of the new bridge, which became known as the Greater New Orleans or “GNO” Bridge. Construction on it began in 1954 and was completed in April 1958 at a cost of $50 million. This initial bridge carried four lanes for traffic and it featured a center median that in the early years of operation lacked a center divider to separate the flow of traffic. When completed, it was among the largest steel cantilever truss bridges in the world. Its center span is 1,575 ft long, still among the longest such spans of any bridge of its type. Including the expressway approaches on each end, the bridge is nearly three miles long from end to end and its roadway soars to an elevation of 170 ft above mean river level.


This postcard image from 1958 shows the recently-opened Greater New Orleans Bridge looking toward the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans and the Lower Garden District. Note the lack of traffic and the "open country" of the Westbank side of the river beyond.

The new bridge was an immediate success and along with the completion of its approach highways over the following few years, the bridge ushered in a new wave of rapid suburban development in the region’s Westbank. By the 1970s however, the existing bridge was becoming problematic as the structure was unable to handle the ever-increasing cross-river traffic volumes. Planners considered the addition of a second bridge to supplement the GNO Bridge, including sites such as Causeway Boulevard/Nine Mile Point in Jefferson Parish, Napoleon Avenue in Uptown New Orleans, and the Bywater section of the 9th Ward. Ultimately, planners chose to support the construction of a parallel span at the existing location. This second bridge, which had the working title of “Greater New Orleans Bridge No. 2”, was constructed in conjunction with a series of other freeway improvement projects in and around downtown New Orleans, including the expansion of the Westbank Expressway, the widening of the Pontchartrain Expressway, and the addition of the “Claiborne Flyover” to better connect the bridge with Interstate 10. As part of the parallel span project, new ramps were built to connect the bridge with Tchoupitoulas Street to directly serve the heavy amounts of truck traffic in and out of the Port of New Orleans, as well as providing easier access to the New Orleans Convention Center and Cruise Ship Terminal. These “spaghetti ramps” are an interesting experience to drive and they were fit in to a small space due to the constraints of the bridges and their surrounding urban environment.


This 2023 aerial photo looks east toward the Mississippi River from high above the Lower Garden  District near the Central Business District. Notice the "spaghetti ramps" that were built to connect the Crescent City Connection twin spans with the area of Tchoupitoulas Street and the Convention Center.

After seven years of construction, the parallel span opened to traffic in September 1988. It was mandated during the design process that the new addition be built to similar proportions as its neighbor so that the piers of both bridges would line up in the river navigation channel and reduce the hazard to on-water traffic. The main span length of the parallel span is actually about 20 ft longer than that of the original span. The new bridge was built about 400 ft downriver from its counterpart. This spacing was intentional due to the geotechnical subsurface conditions at the project site. Two large structures like these, built too close to each other, would have a tendency to negatively impact the surrounding soil and cause one another to tilt and settle in the soft clay soil of the area. The design of the new bridge took these issues into account and the end result was another of the world’s largest steel truss bridges. Taken as individual bridges, each one of them are enormous record-breaking structures. When paired together, the visual that is created is truly breathtaking and one-of-a-kind on the Mississippi River and anywhere else in North America.

The overall cost of the project was $550 million, which included the construction of the bridge and the improvements to the Pontchartrain Expressway and the flyovers connecting the bridge with General DeGaulle Drive and Terry Parkway on the Westbank. Construction continued on other related aspects of the large-scale downtown/Westbank freeway expansion program into the early 1990s, such as the completion of the “Claiborne Flyover” across from the Superdome and the final stage of the elevated Westbank Expressway in Gretna. Upon completion of the 2nd span, a public naming contest was held as the region sought to rebrand the new-look river crossing. The winning choice was “Crescent City Connection” and the bridge has been known as such ever since, although some old-timers still refer to the bridge by its original “Greater New Orleans” name.


This 2024 photo taken from the Mississippi Riverwalk across from Jackson Square shows the Crescent City Connection twin spans at the opposite end of the Central Business District. The Canal Street-Algiers Point Ferry is passing by in the foreground of the photo.

Upon completion of the new bridge, the 1958 bridge was reconfigured to carry four lanes of Westbank-bound traffic. The new bridge therefore carries four lanes of downtown-bound traffic. Built as part of the parallel span project is the state of Louisiana’s only set of reversible High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, which utilize deck space on the new bridge. The two-lane roadway that crosses the bridge is separated from downtown-bound traffic by jersey barriers and has exit/entrance points at Tchoupitoulas Street and Earhart Boulevard on the city side, and Gen. DeGaulle, Terry Parkway, and the Westbank Expressway on the Westbank side. The lanes were planned during a time when commuter patterns in the metro area were very different than they are today. New Orleans was a corporate hub for the Gulf of Mexico oil industry in the 1970s and a large percentage of the downtown work force consisted of working-class residents living in the Westbank. With the changing of the economy in the following decades and the shift away from downtown New Orleans being the primary hub of commercial activity in favor of northern Jefferson Parish, traffic patterns changed in a way that infrastructure like the HOV lanes became outdated and far less useful, since most commuter trips from the Westbank no longer terminated within the downtown area or at a location where it was advantageous to utilize them. (The lack of a direct connection between the HOV lanes and Interstate 10 is a functional issue that has not helped matters.) In this sense, the HOV lanes on the bridge are a largely wasted space that should be repurposed or reimagined to make more efficient use of the valuable deck space that the lanes currently occupy.


This 2024 photo shows the nearly-empty HOV lanes of the Crescent City Connection during the morning rush hour, open in the direction of downtown from the Westbank.

In March 2023, the New Orleans City Council gave preliminary approval to a plan that would create a bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor connecting Algiers with downtown New Orleans and points east. While no final schematics were presented, the BRT system would likely use the Crescent City Connection’s HOV lanes, breathing life into an underused urban highway that currently fails to justify its existence. There is currently no timetable for the implementation of any BRT system in the city, however it is ideas like this that should be considered and pursued in order to make full use of the valuable roadway space available. Regardless of its usage, the HOV roadway is an interesting experience to drive. While traversing it between the bridge and Earhart Boulevard, the flyover soars above the Pontchartrain Expressway, giving an unobstructed view of downtown New Orleans to those lucky enough to cross it. It's one of this author's favorite urban freeway drives in North America due to its uniqueness and the impressive visual payoff.

Since its initial opening in 1958, this bridge has spent time both as a toll bridge and free bridge. The original Greater New Orleans span operated as a toll bridge from its opening until 1964 when legislation passed in the state legislature ordered the removal of the tolls from the bridge. Tolls were reinstated in 1988 as a funding mechanism for the construction of the second span and this period of toll collection ended in 2013. Since then, the bridge has been free of charge to cross and there are no plans to reintroduce tolling at this bridge in the future.

The Crescent City Connection, along with its connecting Pontchartrain and Westbank Expressways, is part of the future Interstate 49 corridor as approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in 1999. The future I-49 corridor in southern Louisiana is a long-term project proposed to extend the existing interstate eastward along US Highway 90 between Lafayette and New Orleans by way of Morgan City. When the Federal highway Administration (FHWA) rejected Louisiana’s proposal to place I-49 signs along the freeway-standard segments of US 90 Business in greater New Orleans, they countered with the offer of designating the CCC and its approaches as Interstate 910, which would be a temporary designation until the completion of the broader I-49 project. Louisiana took no further action on the matter – while the designation is approved at a federal level, there is no reference to I-910 on a state level and as of 2024 it remains unsigned.

The following photos from my visits to the Crescent City Connection showcase various vantage points from ground level on the Mississippi Riverfront in downtown New Orleans on the river's east bank. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my visits to the Crescent City Connection showcase various vantage points from ground level on the Mississippi Riverfront in the Algiers section of New Orleans on the river's west bank. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my February 2023 visit to the Crescent City Connection showcase the Westbank-bound crossing of the bridge in the reversible HOV lanes from downtown New Orleans to the Westbank suburb of Gretna. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my February 2023 visit to the Crescent City Connection showcase the downtown-bound crossing of the bridge in the reversible HOV lanes from the Westbank suburb of Gretna to downtown New Orleans. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my February 2024 visit to the Crescent City Connection showcase the Westbank-bound crossing of the bridge in the general lanes from downtown New Orleans to the Westbank suburb of Gretna. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my February 2024 visit to the Crescent City Connection showcase the downtown-bound crossing of the bridge in the general lanes from the Westbank suburb of Gretna to downtown New Orleans. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following aerial photos from my November 2023 visit to the Crescent City Connection showcase various views of the bridge and its surroundings along the Mississippi River near downtown New Orleans. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

Dashcam video of the Westbank-bound crossing of the Crescent City Connection in the general lanes from downtown New Orleans to the Westbank suburb of Gretna was filmed in February 2024 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

Dashcam video of the downtown-bound crossing of the Crescent City Connection in the general lanes from the Westbank suburb of Gretna to downtown New Orleans was filmed in February 2024 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

Dashcam video of the Westbank-bound crossing of the Crescent City Connection in the HOV lanes from downtown New Orleans to the Westbank suburb of Gretna was filmed in February 2024 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

Dashcam video of the downtown-bound crossing of the Crescent City Connection in the HOV lanes from the Westbank suburb of Gretna to downtown New Orleans was filmed in February 2024 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

The Crescent City Connection was featured in the "Bridges of the Lower Mississippi River" webinar on the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel, beginning at the 2:23:18 mark:

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