Lake Pontchartrain Causeway blended innovation and audacity to link north and south shores
On Aug. 30, 1956, officials opened the 24-mile-long, two-lane Lake Pontchartrain Causeway — a “glistening, snowlike ribbon of concrete and steel,” as it was described in The Times-Picayune at the time — linking communities on the north and south shores. The cost: $46 million.
In May 1969, a second two-lane span was added for $30 million, doubling the bridge’s footprint. Today, some 12 million vehicles cross the Causeway every year.
- The original span, which is the current southbound span, took 14 months to build, with construction being completed 4 months early.
- The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the Causeway as the world’s largest continuous bridge over water.
- Upon the bridge’s opening, tolls were $2 per round trip for cash customers and the speed limit was 60 mph. A toll hike in 1995 raised tolls to $3 per round trip, while the speed limit is now 65 mph.
- Construction of the Causeway wasn’t your ordinary bridge job. Not only was it the first to use 54-inch diameter hollow, cylindrical pre-stressed concrete piles to support the span, but it was also the first bridge to employ mass-production, assembly line techniques in fabricating the bridge’s concrete decks.
- The first drivers across the bridge on opening day were greeted on the North Shore by “a group of 50 attractively attired girls from the Mandeville high school who by way of welcome tossed flowers into windows of passing cars,” according to a Times-Picayune account.
- Given its camera-friendly lines, the Causeway makes occasional cameos in local film projects, including a notable aerial view of itat the end of the 2003 Disney film “The Haunted Mansion.”
When the Causeway was built, local officials were hoping not only to reduce traffic on other roadways leading into New Orleans but also — by offering a 50-minute commute into the city — to open up the North Shore to residential growth. Since then, St. Tammany Parish has become a booming bedroom community and the state’s fifth most-populous parish.