Skip to main content

Huey P. Long Bridge (New Orleans, LA)

Located on the lower Mississippi River a few miles west of New Orleans, the Huey P. Long Bridge is an enormous steel truss bridge that carries both road and rail traffic on an old-time structure that is a fascinating example of a bridge that has evolved in recent years to meet the traffic and safety demands of modern times. While officially located in suburban Jefferson Parish near the unincorporated community of Bridge City, this bridge’s location is most often associated with New Orleans, given that it’s the largest and most recognizable incorporated population center in the nearby vicinity. For this reason, this blog article considers the bridge’s location to be in New Orleans, even though this isn’t 100% geographically correct.

Completed in 1935 as the first bridge across the Mississippi River in Louisiana and the first to be built in the New Orleans area, this bridge is one of two bridges on the Mississippi named for Huey P. Long, a Louisiana politician who served as the 40th Governor of the State from 1928 to 1932, then as US Senator from 1932 until his death by assassination at the state capitol in Baton Rouge on September 10, 1935. One of Long’s greatest contributions to the state was his advocacy for investment in infrastructure across the state of Louisiana, with thousands of miles of paved roads and bridges being built throughout the state in the years during and immediately following his administration.

Planning for this project evolved from nearly 100 years of discussions led by the local railroad industry to construct a bridge across the Mississippi in the New Orleans area. It was not until the early 20th Century that technologies had advanced to the point where a large-scale bridge could be built across such a high-volume body of water to serve the heavy loads of railroad traffic and it was during this period that potential locations for the bridge were studied. In addition to a site upriver from Nine Mile Point west of New Orleans, multiple locations further downriver in town were looked at, however the Nine Mile Point (named for the sharp bend in the river about nine river miles upriver from Jackson Square) location, about 105 river miles upstream from the mouth of the great river at the Head of Passes Light, was ultimately chosen. While the site chosen appears counterintuitive given its location relative to the populated center of region at the time, it’s important to understand another significant factor: this project was conceived originally as a bridge solely for railroad traffic. The placement of the bridge was intentional in that it was advantageous to the region’s railroad industry. The most significant railroad infrastructure at the time, including the largest railyards and exchange points, were located west of the city center on the east bank of the river. By building the bridge in this area, it became much easier for the region’s railroads to access both sides of the river from their regional hubs in Jefferson Parish.

The idea of adding capacity for vehicle traffic was a late decision and to some extent, this was evident in the structure that was built. Borrowing from the appearance of the Harahan Bridge further north on the Mississippi River in Memphis, this bridge featured a roadway layout where the space for vehicle traffic was cantilevered outside the main steel superstructure, creating an awkward visual that was not functionally ideal, even in the years of the Great Depression. It was through Gov. Huey Long’s intervention in the planning process that these roadways were forcibly added to the project, so it is fair to say that he had a significant role in the location and design of the bridge that bears his name.

Huey P. Long (1893-1935)

Construction of the bridge began in 1932 and was completed in December 1935 at an initial cost of $13 million. The immense railroad component structure, owned by the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad and including the trestle approaches on each side of the river, remains largely unchanged since its initial construction. At an impressive 4 ½ miles long, this length is mandated by the maximum 1.25% grade for heavy railroad tracks and the bridge’s deck height of 150 ft above mean river level. By itself, it’s one of the longest railroad bridges in Louisiana and would be seen as an engineering marvel even without the addition and complication of the adjoining roadway elements. It is common for drivers on the bridge to view passing trains on the tracks above and this bridge has been a popular railfan location for many years. Due to the length of the bridge and the slow speeds that trains must travel at when crossing, it takes at least 15 minutes for any one train to fully transit the structure. 

Each roadway initially carried two lanes for traffic in each direction. The travel lanes were no wider than 9 ft and there was no space dedicated for pedestrians on the bridge. The length of the roadways was initially about 1 ½ miles and there were no emergency shoulders along that stretch, which made for a hazardous drive that became antiquated not long after it entered service. These dangers were always present during its first 75 years of operation and old timers in the area often speak about the hair-raising experience of traversing the structure in heavy traffic. While the bridge was a huge success for railroad interests, it left much to be desired from a roadway transport perspective, as the city of New Orleans continued to lack a bridge of its own to accommodate the growing vehicle traffic demands in the already-developed areas of the region. A project to address this deficiency was finally planned in the years after World War II and would be constructed in the 1950s as the Greater New Orleans Bridge (today known as the Crescent City Connection).

These construction photos showcase the superstructure strengthening and widening work undertaken on the Huey P. Long Bridge at the height of the long-term reconstruction project that remade the bridge into a modern facility for all modes of transport. (Images courtesy of Traylor Bros., Inc.)

The operational concerns caused by the functionally obsolete layout of the Huey P. Long Bridge’s roadways were finally addressed in a landmark reconstruction project that sought to modernize the existing bridge while expanding its roadway infrastructure in a manner that largely preserved its historic profile. Construction of this expansion project was carried out in phases, beginning in 2006 and ending in 2013 at a total cost of $1.2 billion. As the work on the project commenced in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the project was seen by many as a symbol of the rebirth and recovery of southeast Louisiana in the wake of the worst natural disaster in the state’s history.

In order to accommodate the wider superstructure planned as the focal point of the project, the bridge’s main span foundations were deepened and widened to support the forthcoming heavier loads. The main span piers were widened to support the additional connections on the flanks of the existing superstructure. Central to the bridge’s reconstruction was the revamping of the original steel cantilever truss. This massive element, featuring an overall length of about ½ mile and a longest span of 790 ft, was strengthened and widened by the addition of pre-fabricated steel frames and trusses that were assembled on barges near the project site. These trusses, which when pre-assembled were the size and length of an entire bridge span, were hoisted into position on the widened bridge piers using hydraulic jacks. A large percentage of the work was performed off-site in the pre-fabrication stage and the reduced on-site work time enabled the bridge to remain open and functional throughout the reconstruction. The bridge’s roadway approaches were also completely replaced with new structures that featured gentler grades and shallower curves. Each direction of US Highway 90 traffic now features three modern-width lanes with full emergency shoulders along the length of the bridge. The original dedication plates from 1935 that stood at the portals to the bridge's roadways were relocated to the portals of the main span superstructure and remain visible today. It was a landmark project that was an enormous success locally and an example of how our existing and aging bridges can be re-imagined and modernized in-place without the headaches of having to deal with full-scale replacement. 

The following photos from my January 2017 visit to the Huey P. Long Bridge showcase various vantage points from ground level on the Mississippi Riverfront in Bridge City. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my February 2023 visit to the Huey P. Long Bridge showcase the northbound/eastbound crossing of the bridge from Bridge City to Metairie. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my February 2023 visit to the Huey P. Long Bridge showcase the southbound/westbound crossing of the bridge from Metairie to Bridge City. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following aerial photos from my February 2023 visit to the Huey P. Long 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 northbound drive over the Huey P. Long 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 Huey P. Long Bridge was filmed in February 2023 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

The Huey P. Long Bridge was featured in the "Bridges of the Lower Mississippi River" webinar on the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel, beginning at the 2:18:15 mark:

How To Get There:


Skip W said…
Big Boy steam locomotive crossing the Huey P Long Bridge in 2021

Popular posts from this blog

The Dummy Lights of New York

  A relic of the early days of motoring, dummy lights were traffic lights  that  were  placed  in the middle of a street intersection. In those early days, traffic shuffled through busy intersections with the help of a police officer who stood on top of a pedestal. As technology improved and electric traffic signals became commonplace, they were also  originally  positioned on a platform at the center of the intersection. Those traffic signals became known as  " dummy lights "  and were common until  traffic lights were moved  onto wires and poles that crossed above the intersection.  In New York State, only a handful of these dummy lights exist. The dummy lights  are found  in the Hudson Valley towns of Beacon and Croton-on-Hudson, plus there is an ongoing tug of war in Canajoharie in the Mohawk Valley, where their dummy light has been knocked down and replaced a few times. The dummy light in Canajoharie is currently out of commission, but popular demand has caused the dummy

Colorado Road (Fresno County)

Colorado Road is a rural highway located in San Joaquin Valley of western Fresno County.  Colorado Road services the city of San Joaquin in addition the unincorporated communities of Helm and Tranquility.  Colorado Road was constructed between 1910 and 1912 as a frontage road of the Hanford & Summit Lake Railway.  The roadway begins at California State Route 145 near Helm and terminates to the west at James Road in Tranquility.   Part 1; the history of Colorado Road Colorado Road was constructed as frontage road connecting the sidings of the Hanford & Summit Lake Railway.  The Hanford & Summit Lake Railway spanned from South Pacific Railroad West Side Line at Ingle junction southeast to the Coalinga Branch at Armona.  The Hanford & Summit Lake Railway broke ground during August 1910 and was complete by April 1912. The Hanford & Summit Lake Railway established numerous new sidings.  From Ingle the sidings of the line were Tranquility, Graham, San Joaquin, Caldwell, H

Madera County Road 400 and the 1882-1886 Yosemite Stage Road

Madera County Road 400 is an approximately twenty-four-mile roadway following the course of the Fresno River in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Road 400 begins at California State Route 145 near Madera and terminates to the north at Road 415 near Coarsegold.  Traditionally Road 400 was known as "River Road" prior to Madera County dropping naming conventions on county highways.  Road 400 was part of the original Yosemite Stage Route by the Washburn Brothers which began in 1882.  The Yosemite Stage Route would be realigned to the west in 1886 along what is now Road 600 to a rail terminus in Raymond.  Parts of Road 400 were realigned in 1974 to make way for the Hensley Lake Reservoir.  Part 1; the history of Madera County Road 400 Road 400 is historically tied to the Wawona Road and Hotel.  The Wawona Hotel is located near the Mariposa Grove in the modern southern extent of Yosemite National Park.   The origins of the Wawona Road are tied to the Wawona Hotel but it does predate th