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Lake Pontchartrain Causeway: Construction & Facts

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever driven across a bridge and realized while you were on it that you could no longer see land? In this lesson, explore the building of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge in Louisiana.

Where Is Lake Pontchartrain?

Sometimes the quickest way across a lake is to cut right through the middle.

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge is a pair of parallel twin bridges approximately 24 miles long. A twin bridge is one where two similar spans run side by side, and a causeway is a raised path across a wet area. This bridge certainly does just that - it's one of the longest bridges over open water in the world. It crosses at the middle of Lake Pontchartrain, a large saline lake and wetlands area in southeast Louisiana that connects to the Mississippi Sound.

The lake is a massive body of water and covers nearly 610 square miles. The bustling city of New Orleans sits along its southern shore. As the region's population boomed after World War II, people began considering ways to cross Lake Pontchartrain to overcome the lengthy travel time of driving around the lake.

Aerial view of Lake Pontchartrain with the causeway bridge visible across the middle. New Orleans is the lighter, populated area to the south.
Aerial view of Lake Pontchartrain

Building the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge

In 1955, officials decided to move forward with a bridge-building project and the Louisiana Bridge Company was formed. This project marked a first in bridge construction because it used assembly-line processes. The company built a manufacturing plant on site near the northern end of Lake Pontchartrain where the bridge would sit. From there, all concrete parts for the causeway were poured, cured and assembled on-site.

In another innovation, the bridge structure used extensive parts made of pre-stressed concrete, made by pouring concrete around high strength steel tendons that have been stretched under tension to increase their resistance. This makes the finished piece stronger.

Louisiana's soft soils meant piles, or vertical support poles, had to be driven very deep into the ground to provide enough support for structures. Workers used 54-inch wide, hollow, pre-stressed concrete cylinders for the pilings. They were larger and stronger than those used in any past project.

The bridge deck was built in pre-fabricated segments. As work progressed, barges were used to carry segments over the open water to be installed.

The first span of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge took only 14 months to build. It opened in 1956, at a cost of 30 million dollars to build. As traffic increased, the first span reached capacity and another was built, opening in 1969. When completed, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge cut travel time from North Shore communities to New Orleans by 30 minutes.

View of Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge from water level
View of Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge

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