Dennis Persica: Bridge changes blessing mixed for this driver and Jefferson

I like old church buildings, with intricate stone nooks, crannies, even gargoyles, on the outside; large murals, stained-glass windows and statues of martyrs tucked away in alcoves within. I prefer these to the more modern churches, bare and austere.

I preferred the old baseball parks, with walls that produce quirky bounces predictable only to the players who roamed that outfield day after day after day.

And — possibly alone in the world — I liked driving on the old Huey P. Long Bridge. Admittedly, I didn’t have to rely on that bridge for a regular commute, and I never had a breakdown or a flat on it, so that colors my opinion somewhat.

I drove on it probably fewer than 50 times in my life. But I always enjoyed it. It seemed like flying, watching the ground disappearing below as you scaled the bridge; watching the ground come closer after you’d crossed the peak and begun your descent.

And that was another plus: You could actually see the river as you rode the bridge. You used to be able to do that on the original span of the Crescent City Connection, too. But when they built the new span parallel to it, they did it with concrete walls a few feet high, making the ground below invisible unless you were in an 18-wheeler.

After that, they refurbished the old CCC span, and they put up higher concrete barriers on that one, too. The view of the river was gone. I’m sure there’s a safety consideration there, removing a distraction for the driver. Too bad, though, that nondriving passengers are stuck with a prosaic view of concrete walls as they cross the bridge.

On the old Huey, the ground and river below were right there outside your window, perhaps too close for a lot of riders’ comfort. There were no shoulders, and the lanes were narrow. So, the possibility of being struck by a speeding vehicle and knocked over the railing and into the Big Muddy seemed all too real.

For me, the traffic circles on both sides of the span were much more anxiety-inducing than riding the bridge itself. Heading toward the bridge, I always felt like I was going to take the wrong lane and miss getting on it.

Once I got to the other side, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to get off the circle and would wind up like Clark Griswold in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” stuck forever in a roundabout.

Whenever I took the Huey to the West Bank, I’d always forget which way I was supposed to go to get to Gretna. More often than not, I’d accidentally take the slow, meandering route along the river instead of the high-speed access of the West Bank Expressway. In the end, though, I didn’t mind, opting again for the old quirky way instead of the streamlined efficient one.

Jefferson Parish officials have been salivating for years waiting for the bridge renovation, and not just because it will quicken the trip to Mosca’s for East Jeff pols. The improved access will turn West Jefferson, with its abundance of undeveloped property, into the land of opportunity for developers.

The genie’s out of the bottle and he’s not going back in. The better access to West Jefferson that people wished for will change it in ways we can’t predict. For longtime residents there, this trip into the future may be the scariest ride of all.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.