By John Dupont
A structure that bears the same aura as a world-famous bridge on the West Coast brought a new image to Pointe Coupee Parish.
Ten year later, the John J. Audubon Bridge – which bears a resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge – has become as synonymous with Pointe Coupee Parish as False River.
It also has become a connector route that has put Pointe Coupee Parish into a much closer link for business and commerce in the greater Baton Rouge region.
The bridge has changed many aspects of life in the parish.
The bridge opened to traffic May 5, 2011 – 13 years after its original projected completion.
It ranks as the second longest cable-stayed span in the Western Hemisphere, at 1,583 feet, second only to Mexico’s Baluarte Bridge, with a 1,706-foot span.
It opened a month earlier than scheduled due to another major event – the opening of the Morganza Floodway.
The opening of the spillway, only the second time since 1973, followed a deluge of slow-moving water down the Mississippi River.
The move toward an early opening played a role in how Pointe Coupee and West Feliciana parishes would brace for a flood from the opening of the floodway.
“It was a perfect storm,” said Louis Hebert, who served on the Zachary Taylor Parkway Commission.
“I remember the sheriff’s offices on both sides of the river were making plans in case of a disaster and flood, and that was going to be the mustering point because the bridge was higher than anyone else, and God forbid if something happened, we could move them the same day.”
The Zachary Taylor Parkway Commission is a multi-parish coalition geared toward improvement and advancement of economic development and tourism in Pointe Coupee, Avoyelles, East Feliciana, Rapides, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana parishes. The coalition’s goal is to eventually link Interstate 55 to Interstate 49 with a four-lane highway.
The opening of the bridge capped a project that broke ground in 2006 at an estimated cost of $336 million. The final price tag was $409 million.
Plans for the bridge took shape as part of the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development (TIMED), a $.2 billion transportation infrastructure program created to increase economic development in Louisiana by investing in transportation improvement projects.
The wheels started turning when voters approved a 4-cent per gallon tax on gasoline to fund the projects, which included widening more than 500 miles of state highways to four lanes and widening or construction of three new bridges.
The TIMED project was approved during the administration of then-Gov. Buddy Roemer, who died in May.
“It’s kind of fitting that we’re celebrating the anniversary of this bridge just as he has passed away,” Hebert said.
While the bridge may seemingly serve as a legacy, it also marks what many consider the pathway to the future not only for Pointe Coupee Parish, but much of the Baton Rouge metro region.
“We’re seeking funding to further market and develop it,” Pointe Coupee Parish Major Thibaut said.
“It’s probably going to take some time, but I think it serves us well and will be even better in the future.”
NEXT WEEK: How the bridge has affected the area economically, and what potential does it hold for the future.