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Veterans Memorial Bridge (Gramercy, LA)

When we think of the greatest engineering achievements and the greatest bridges of North America, we tend to focus on those located in places familiar to us or those structures that serve the greatest roles in connecting the many peoples and cultures of our continent. Greatness can also be found in the places we least expect to find it and that 'greatness' can unfortunately be overlooked, due in large part to projects that are mostly inconsequential, if not wasteful, to the development and fortunes of the surrounding area.

In the aftermath of the George Prince ferry disaster that claimed the lives of 78 people in October 1976 in nearby Luling, LA, the state of Louisiana began the process of gradually phasing out most of its prominent cross-river ferry services, a process that remains a work in progress today. While the Luling-Destrehan Ferry service was eliminated in 1983 upon completion of the nearby Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge, the ferry service at Gramercy, LA in rural St. James Parish was seen as a safety issue and planning for a bridge in the area commenced shortly thereafter. By the mid-1980s, the Mississippi River was crossed by only one bridge between greater New Orleans and Baton Rouge and that bridge, the Sunshine Bridge near Donaldsonville, was seen by this time as beneficial project for the downriver parishes. The Gramercy Bridge (as it is known by locals) was completed in 1995 at a cost of $110 million and is the most recent example of long-span steel cantilever/through truss bridge design at its finest. With a center main span of 1,460 ft, it is one of the longest bridges of its type in the world, even rivaling the size of the dual spans of the Crescent City Connection in New Orleans. Due to its location downriver from Baton Rouge in the sea-level section of the Mississippi River that is frequented by large ocean-going ships, the bridge’s clearance above mean river level is 165 ft, making it among the tallest bridges on the lower Mississippi. 

The bridge’s four lane roadway carries LA Highway 3213 as it connects Interstate 10 and US Highway 61 (Airline Highway) to the north with LA Highway 3127 to the south. Until 2008, this bridge was quite literally a “Bridge to Nowhere”, as the bridge’s southern (west bank) approach dead-ended and all traffic was forced to use the low-speed and inconvenient River Road (LA Highway 18). The completion of the west bank approach highway in that year aided in making this bridge more useable for locals, however as of 2024 it has not turned into the busy river crossing and economic lifeline for the region it was predicted to become.


Although visually impressive and a landmark in the history of modern American engineering, the Gramercy Bridge is largely seen today as an overreach and an underutilized structure that fails to justify its existence due to low traffic counts and negligible related economic benefits.

While it may be argued that a bridge across the river was ultimately necessary and that there was enough demand to warrant some kind of fixed crossing of the river in this area, it’s clear, in this author’s opinion, that the amount of bridge that was built here comes nowhere near the amount that was appropriate given the traffic demands of the area, whether in terms of traffic in 1990 or that of 2024. The desire to eliminate the ferry crossing in Gramercy was an unnecessary overcorrection. Passenger ferries themselves are not dangerous modes of transportation when they are placed in the hands of competent, sober crews. The regulatory changes brought about by the George Prince tragedy ensured that this would remain the case all the way to the present day. The ferries that continue to operate on the lower Mississippi, whether in Plaquemine or in greater New Orleans, do so safely to the highest of standards with a terrific safety record. The Gramercy Ferry was not unsafe, but the disaster downriver in Luling caused an overreaction that led to one of Louisiana’s largest boondoggle projects of the last 50 years.

Great projects like the Gramercy Bridge unfortunately take on a bad reputation and are oftentimes seen as “white elephants” due to the exorbitant costs involved and the comparatively minor benefits. While it’s true that the redundancy of another bridge on the Mississippi River is a positive trait on the face of it, the location of this project, in a rural part of the state that’s located away from the common travel patterns and thoroughfares of the region, is not beneficial for solving the problems of cross-river mobility in the state’s largest population centers. The funds that were allocated for the construction of this bridge could have been, and should have been, used more appropriately to address these concerns elsewhere in the state where well-established facilities and infrastructure were (and still are) in need of modernization and supplementation. The Gramercy Bridge is a great bridge and a great example of modern American engineering. Unfortunately, it’s also an example of how 'greatness' can be unnecessary and inconsequential despite good intentions.

The following photos from my February 2023 visit to the Gramercy Bridge showcase the northbound crossing of the bridge toward the village of Gramercy. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my February 2023 visit to the Gramercy Bridge showcase the southbound crossing of the bridge toward the village of Wallace. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my February 2023 visit to the Gramercy Bridge showcase various ground-level perspectives of the bridge on both banks of the Mississippi River. Click on each photo to see a larger version.


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

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

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

The Veterans Memorial Bridge was featured in the "Bridges of the Lower Mississippi River" webinar on the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel, beginning at the 2:01:48 mark:

How To Get There:

Further Reading:
Veterans Memorial Bridge by John Weeks

Bridges, Crossings, and Structures of the Lower Mississippi River
Next Crossing upriver: Sunshine Bridge (Donaldsonville, LA)
Next Crossing downriver: Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge (Luling, LA)
Nearby Flood Control Structure: Bonnet Carre Control Structure (Norco, LA)
Return to the Bridges of the Lower Mississippi River Home Page
__________________________________________________

Comments

Anonymous said…
You have incorrect information. It was called the bridge to nowhere because it was incomplete and unusable for years when funding ran out. The bridge is used daily not only to transport students to our specialized learning centers but also emergency services and commuters. The ferry did not operate 24/7 so the bridge offers safer, uninterrupted service uniting St. James parish.
Dan said…
Yeah, there's no misinformation in here whatsoever, rather it seems that the information you claim to be incorrect is simply information you dislike. If you're going to accuse me of misinformation, at least have the courage to put your name on it instead of hiding behind that "Anonymous" tag. Appreciate you reading the blog though.

- Dan
Anonymous said…
Veterans Memorial Bridge
LA-3213 Mississippi River Crossing At Gramercy
Gramercy, Louisiana
Veterans Memorial Bridge

• Structure ID: NBI: 614704340300011.
• Location: River Mile 145.9.
• River Elevation: 0 Feet (Sea Level).
• Highway: LA-3213.
• Daily Traffic Count: 7,600 (2003).
• Bridge Type: Continuous Steel Truss Through Deck.
• Length: 3101 Feet.
• Width: 4 Lanes.
• Navigation Channel Width: 750 Foot Clear Channel.
• Height Above Water: 165 Feet.
• Date Built: Opened in 1995.
Prior to 1964, there were only two cities with highway bridges over the Mississippi River on the lower 350 miles of the great river. The need for traffic to cross the river was largely met by a series of ferry crossings, some of which are private ventures, and others that are state operated. The state of Louisiana wishes to replace many of these ferry crossings with highway bridges, but progress is slow. A ferry boat tragedy in 1976 that claimed 78 lives brought national attention to the problem. The I-310 Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge was built directly as a result of the ferry accident, and this bridge at Gramercy followed a decade later.
The bridge at Gramercy carries Louisiana highway LA-3213 over the Mississippi River. The structure is often called the Gramercy Bridge, but its official name is the Veterans Memorial Bridge. While economic development really took off near Donaldson after the Sunshine Bridge was completed, the Veterans Memorial Bridge has yet to realize its full potential. It has helped the local farming industry avoid hauling sugar cane the long way around using another river crossing. Beyond that, the highway going west into rural Louisiana has never been built, leading some to refer to this structure as a bridge to nowhere.

Update—As of June 17, 2008, the ‘Bridge To Nowhere’ is finally connected on both ends. The stub connection on the west end of the bridge was extended two miles to meet with LA-3127. The west end formerly connected only to the Great River Road running along the Mississippi River. The road extension was finished for some time before it finally opened. The power company took months to run power lines one mile down the road to a railroad crossing. Without the railroad crossing being completed, the road could not be opened to highway traffic, making it a ‘Road To Nowhere’ from the ‘Bridge To Nowhere’.

The photo above is a view looking south towards the Veterans Memorial Bridge from a vantage point along the edge of highway LA-3213 located about a mile and a half north of the Mississippi River. The river is 2,300 feet wide at this location, putting the far end of the bridge truss structure about two miles away in this view.


Veterans Memorial Bridge
These two photos are views looking towards the bridge from vantage points located northeast of the structure. The river runs east and west at this location, so the bridge crosses the river in a southerly direction. The photo above a view near the approach spans located about 2,800 feet from the edge of the Mississippi River. The photo below is a wider view from a vantage point located about 1,000 feet further north.

Veterans Memorial Bridge
Veterans Memorial Bridge
The photo above is a view of the Veterans Memorial Bridge as seen from about a mile southwest of the bridge from a vantage point located along the road that parallels the Mississippi River.
The spectacular photo below was taken by Andy Jung from the window of an airliner just prior to landing at New Orleans. While I normally only use my own photography, this one was far too good to pass up. The lack of a connecting highway on the far side of the bridge is easily seen from this vantage point.


Veterans Memorial Bridge
Made With Macintosh
Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
For further information, contact: john@johnweeks.com



Arthur said…
It should also be known that this bridge is used for all wide/tall loads to cross the river as it has more clearance than the rest in the area.....


Anonymous said…
Just because you have no use for it doesn’t mean it should have been placed in another spot upriver. I agree that there is a need for another bridge and if Louisiana politics weren’t so corrupt, we would have one by now. This bridge is used by many, many people daily in the river and bayou parishes.
I'd love to send you some pictures I have of the bridge during a foggy day. I love this bridge and found your article to be very accurate. Especially considering the mention of the extension they made to 3127 back in 2008. I've lived in Laplace my entire life and whether it's easy west north or south, I have to cross bridges every day, so, I have a particular fascination in the engineering that goes into making bridges. I think on of the most overlooked engineering feats is the I-10 3 mile bridge going west from Laplace.
My email is kerry.labat@yahoo.com if you'd like me to send you those bridge pictures.

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