A Landmark Lesson in Proper Project Upkeep

October 12, 2012
Viewing a truss on the Huey P. Long Bridge

Look at the great condition the Huey P. Long Bridge is in. Thanks to Gaea Engineering Consultants for the great tour.

Over my year as president, one of my favorite duties has been joining in the dedications for our newest National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks, honoring the imagination, knowledge and skill of our predecessors, whose shoulders we stand on.

These projects often achieve landmark status for the lessons they still offer us today. Recently I enjoyed taking part in the dedication of Louisiana’s Huey P. Long Bridge, a dual highway and railroad span across the Mississippi River a few miles north of New Orleans.

It was the world’s longest high-level railroad bridge when it opened in 1935. This magnificent cantilevered structure has been vital to regional transportation and commerce ever since.

Most importantly to us as engineers, the bridge stands as a testament to proper inspection and maintenance, which has been conducted annually since its opening. Because it has been so well cared for over nearly eight decades, it was deemed structurally capable of supporting a massive expansion that began in 2006 and is scheduled for completion next year. Once finished, the bridge’s driving surface will have more than doubled in width from 18 feet to 43 feet. You can see plans and track its progress at the project’s official website.

All of this begs the question, why can’t we maintain all of our works as well? At a time when many bridges of the same age are functionally obsolete, the landmark Huey Long Bridge is capable of expansion.

What’s at play with works that aren’t aging as well? Lack of foresight or funding or something else? Going forward, will more emphasis on sustainability help, by encouraging practices that enhance durability and extend projects’ functional life? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below.

An aside: I’m looking forward to seeing many of you again, or for the first time, at the ASCE Annual Conference opening Thursday in Montreal.

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