Project ahead of schedule

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --  Work on the Huey P. Long bridge, which is undergoing a $1.2 billion widening, is ahead of schedule and slated to be finished on June. 16, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Work on the Huey P. Long bridge, which is undergoing a $1.2 billion widening, is ahead of schedule and slated to be finished on June. 16, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Long bridge work slated to end in June

The massively expensive widening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish is slated to be completed ahead of schedule, and officials are planning a 5K run/walk to celebrate the accomplishment.

State Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas announced Tuesday that the $1.2 billion project that has more than doubled the driving lanes on the bridge will be finished on June 16 — Father’s Day.

That completion date would mean the project was completed roughly four months ahead of schedule and within budget, LeBas said. The Huey P. Long project is part of a $4.6 billion slate of transportation projects designed to spur economic development, and it is the single largest transportation program in the state’s history, according to the Department of Transportation and Development.

“This is a great accomplishment and a great time to celebrate,” she proclaimed in a news conference. “It was just a huge, huge investment for this area.”

The bridge-widening project is entering its final phase after getting started in 2006. The state increased the driving surface on the bridge from about 18 feet to 43 feet on both sides. LeBas noted that the bridge will now have three lanes in both directions and shoulders for disabled vehicles. The previous bridge only had two narrow lanes of traffic in both directions and no shoulders.

“Dramatic improvements have been made to this bridge,” LeBas said.

The state is marking the culmination of the project with a race and a ribbon cutting ceremony that morning, LeBas said. Jefferson Parish President John Young said he’d like to make the race an annual event as a way to raise awareness and the profile of the new bridge.

Young has long touted the Huey P. Long project as crucial to economic development in Jefferson Parish, mainly because the West Bank holds the parish’s last few undeveloped parcels. He reiterated some of his long-standing points about the benefits of the bridge widening, including the idea that it will remove some of the psychological hang-ups people previously had about using the narrow bridge. Young joked that anyone who has spent much time in the metropolitan area remembers quite well the first time they drove across the Huey P. Long, particularly with a large truck sharing the road with them.

“It’s probably, actually from a transportation aspect, the single most important capital project we’ll see in our lifetime,” Young said.

State Rep. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego, who represents much of the area near the bridge, agreed with Young on the project’s importance but also said it’s a testament to the hard work of many different legislators. The former mayor of Westwego, Billiot said the new bridge will not only benefit Jefferson Parish but St. Charles, Plaquemines and Lafourche parishes.

“It means an awful lot,” Billiot said.

The state expects to complete two remaining flyover ramps connected to the bridge by late March or April and is in the process of adding a concrete median to the bridge. State officials estimate that roughly 50,000 vehicles use the bridge daily.