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John James Audubon Bridge (New Roads, LA)

One of the most isolated and curiously placed bridges on the lower Mississippi River, the John James Audubon Bridge spans the great river north of Baton Rouge, LA as the northernmost bridge on the river located entirely within Louisiana. Information is hard to come by in this case, but its possible that the Audubon Bridge is the lightest-trafficked bridge on the lower Mississippi River, despite it being in a supposedly advantageous location between US Highway 61 to the east, and Highway 1 to the west.

This bridge was built to replace a long-running ferry service between the river towns of St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish and New Roads in Pointe Coupee Parish. It is a large-scale impressive-looking cable-stayed bridge, with a center span of 1,583 ft and reinforced concrete pylons that stand 520 ft tall. At the time of its completion in May 2011, it was the largest cable-stayed bridge in North America and remains one of the largest such bridges in the United States today. The bridge’s four-lane roadway stands about 75 ft above mean river level and strangely lacks full-width shoulders, a typical design trait of modern-designed long-span bridges. Due to the need for the bridge and its connecting roadways to span the flood plain on either side of the river, the bridge’s elevated approach viaducts span from levee to levee, resulting in a structure that’s over 2 ½ miles long from abutment to abutment. Construction on the bridge and its approaches cost $410 million. Included in this cost were the 12 total miles of approach highways on both sides of the river (part of LA Highway 10) that connect US 61 near St. Francisville with LA Highway 1 in New Roads. These approaches are built for a single lane of traffic in each direction, however right-of-way does exist for a parallel roadway to be constructed so that these approaches can be widened to a total of four lanes should traffic demands ever warrant their expansion.

The John James Audubon Bridge is a visually appealing bridge trapped in one of the most isolated corners of rural Louisiana

The bridge is named for John James Audubon, a French-American artist, naturalist, and ornithologist, who is known for his extensive documentation and illustration of North American bird species in their natural habitats. His greatest published work, The Birds of America, was published in 1839 and is seen in modern times as one of the most definitive and comprehensive ornithological pieces ever assembled. Much of his work on this project was completed while living in nearby St. Francisville in the 1820s. His name is not the only one attached to this project. Each of the bridge’s approaches are named for prominent members of the armed forces who were from this corner of Louisiana. The bridge’s western approach honors Gen. John A. Lejeune, who served as Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (1920-1929) and was a native of Pointe Coupee Parish. The bridge’s eastern approach honors Gen. Robert H. Barrow, who served in the same position (1979-1983) and was a native of West Feliciana Parish.

Above: John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Bottom Left: Gen. Robert H. Barrow (1922-2008)
Bottom Right: Gen. John A. Lejeune (1867-1942)

Cable-stayed bridges have become a dime a dozen across the United States over the last 30 years. Many of them are ordinary and conventional in their design and appearance. In my opinion, this bridge is an exception to that trend. It’s appearance brings to mind both the bright colors of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida while also sporting a pylon design that is striking in how it mimics the appearance of those from the mighty suspension bridges of North America. I’ve had the chance to visit this bridge on two occasions, first in early 2017 and more recently in 2023. On both occasions, I walked away from the experience thoroughly impressed by the physical proportions of the bridge and its memorable appearance, while also being disappointed in its overall lack of utility in spite of it crossing such an important waterway.

While the construction of this bridge might be seen as a positive for the local economy in the long-term, the $410 million investment made for this project was seen as problematic at the time, due to the isolation of the area and the forecasted light traffic volumes. It is this author’s opinion that the funds allocated for this project could have and should have been utilized differently and in locations that would have immediately benefited more from their use. The need for additional bridges and lane miles spanning the lower Mississippi River has been well-known for many years, however the way that the state of Louisiana has gone about addressing this problem has been inefficient at best and has done little to solve the problem of mobility across the river in the most populated corners of the state. While the state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars toward new bridges in isolated parts of the region such as Gramercy and New Roads, no such realistic ideas and solutions have been offered for the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the state’s two largest metropolitan areas, who are both dealing with chronic congestion and the aging conditions of their bridges on the Mississippi. It’s time for the state of Louisiana to get serious and stop investing in these dead-end eye-candy infrastructure projects to nowhere, and instead use the funds available to them to construct and maintain a smarter transportation system that better serves the needs of the state’s population centers while also enhancing the redundancy of the regional transportation network. Louisianans should not be resigned to double down on the trends of the past, but instead should be willing to learn from these mistakes and use the lessons of the past and present to construct a Louisiana that will be sustainable and viable well into the future.

The following photos from my February 2023 visit to the Audubon Bridge showcase the westbound crossing of the bridge from US 61 to New Roads. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my January 2017 visit to the Audubon Bridge showcase the eastbound crossing of the bridge from New Roads to US 61. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos showcase various vantage points from close by or from more distance from the Audubon Bridge, taken on the west bank of the Mississippi River near New Roads. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following aerial photos from my February 2023 visit to the Audubon Bridge showcase various views of the bridge and its surroundings along the Mississippi River. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

Dashcam video of the westbound drive over the Audubon Bridge was filmed in February 2023 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

Dashcam video of the eastbound drive over the Audubon Bridge was filmed in February 2023 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

The John James Audubon Bridge was featured in the "Bridges of the Lower Mississippi River" webinar on the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel, beginning at the 1:40:15 mark:

How To Get There:

Further Reading:
John James Audubon Bridge by John Weeks

Bridges, Crossings, and Structures of the Lower Mississippi River
Next Crossing upriver: Natchez-Vidalia Bridge (Natchez, MS)
Next Crossing downriver: Huey P. Long Bridge (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nearby Flood Control Structure: Morganza Control Structure (Morganza, LA)


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