Continual change

June 11, 2009

Since 1935, the Huey P. Long Bridge has served the residents of greater New Orleans and its visitors as a main artery in and out of this historic city.

Since 1935, the Huey P. Long Bridge has served the residents of greater New Orleans and its visitors as a main artery in and out of this historic city.

The bridge provides passage across the Mississippi River for thousands of vehicles every day. But now, as post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction efforts continue, the crossing takes on an all-new importance as a means for suppliers, contractors, residents and more to access the healing city. A long-awaited improvement project began in 2006 to widen the bridge and is considered essential to the recovery of New Orleans and its surrounding areas.

The first of four phases of the Huey P. Long Bridge Widening Project of Jefferson Parish, La., is currently under way with completion scheduled for 2013. The scope of the widening project includes the addition of a travel lane, along with inside and outside shoulders on both sides of the bridge to provide a more efficient, safe and reliable crossing.

The bridge-widening project called for the ongoing diversion and delineation of traffic as work was under way to protect workers and motorists alike. While concrete barriers have historically been utilized for similar highway widening projects, the nature of the bridge project represented a unique situation. The significant weight of concrete barriers precluded them from consideration, as well as the time and effort involved with putting them into place and re-positioning them as quickly as was needed. The Vulcan Barrier from Quixote Transportation Safety Inc. proved to be the ideal solution for the Huey P. Long Bridge Widening Project as a new and unique alternative to traditional concrete barrier.

Quick-change artistry

Because of the importance of the Huey P. Long Bridge as an urban crossing, speed and efficiency were crucial at every step of the bridge-improvement process. The major challenges included:


Stopping traffic was unavoidable at times, but work area setup and transitions needed to be executed as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to commuter crossings. This called for innovative solutions to keep the bridge-widening project on track for the 2013 completion.


Even when traffic was moving, how fast it moved was largely dependent on workers’ ability to quickly capitalize on every opportunity to maximize the flow of traffic. Shifting lanes and work-zone reconfiguration was so much a part of the project that updates and traffic control were broadcast daily on radio, news stations and the project website. A flexible work zone was necessary to utilize any newly open sections and maximize the flow of traffic across the bridge, especially during peak commute times.


The very nature of the bridge work carried its own unique challenges, which made motorist and worker safety even more of a priority than usual. The Huey P. Long Bridge stands 150 ft above the Mississippi River, exponentially raising the serious consequences of any potential accidents. Additionally, the weight burden on the bridge had to be constantly and carefully monitored to ensure the combined weight of construction materials, equipment, workers, commuter traffic and more all stayed within limit requirements.

The elements of speed, efficiency and safety relied heavily on the traffic barrier, with each work area and lane configuration needing such a barrier. When the barrier was safely and accurately in place, work could begin—and the process repeated with each new setup. How well the barrier performed between setups played an important role in the bridge-widening project.

Traditional concrete barriers were quickly recognized as less than ideal for several reasons.

“We had a limited amount of time to complete this work,” said Justin Lane, project engineer for the bridge-widening initiative. “It was going to be virtually impossible to do what we needed to do using concrete barrier in the timeframe we were allowed. The heavy sections would have taken too long to position and re-position and would have required multiple, massive machinery to transport, unload and place. And we just didn’t have that kind of time or resources.”

The requirements of concrete barrier would have rapidly exhausted funds and manpower resources for this bridge project. Additionally, the sheer weight of the concrete barriers, combined with the heavy machinery required to move it, would not have been a good match, given the weight restrictions of the bridge project.

“The Huey P. Long Bridge Widening Project centered on us being able to quickly and often shift barrier,” said Lane. “Because it’s a bridge, an extra level of precaution had to be taken. We needed everything to run efficiently so New Orleans and the surrounding area could be as accessible as possible for the ongoing recovery process.”

In the face of such demands, the lightweight construction and flexibility of the moveable barrier became the natural solution. The barrier is a portable steel longitudinal barrier that meets NCHRP 350 TL-3 & TL-4 and EN-1317 H2 & N2 test requirements as a longitudinal redirecting barrier and is available in effective lengths of 4 and 12 meters. The barrier uses a vertical steel pivot pin to interlink each section, allowing the system to follow curves of up to 6° per 4-meter segment.

The barrier can be deployed as a free-standing system and is designed to be used with a variety of end-terminal options. Optional casters can be installed to simplify deployment and movement. The lightweight and stackable design allows up to 160 meters to be transported on one truck, offering a transport savings when compared with traditional concrete barriers. The barrier also can be used as a median gate to allow traffic to be diverted.

4-meter sectional

Using the Vulcan Transfer Attachment (VTA) and a small skid steer or front-end loader, a contractor can move the barrier and also open or close a 1-mile-long, 1-lane-wide work zone in 20 minutes. The wheel and jack option is not required for the barrier when using the VTA.

The steel design of the moveable barrier delivers high-performance, positive crashworthy protection with the necessary flexibility for the constantly evolving work zones and lane configurations that were needed on the Huey P. Long Bridge. With the optional jacks and wheels deployed, sections of the barrier can be moved in the work zone by hand or towed short distances with a small vehicle. For the Huey P. Long Bridge Widening Project, the barrier was towed down the bridge 10 sections at a time with a small pickup truck. This capability allowed the contractor to efficiently move and re-anchor 1,000 ft of barrier and a crash cushion in less than two hours.

“It’s been truly remarkable,” said Lane. “We were able to do a lot of things with the [moveable barrier] that would not have been possible if we were using concrete. The [barrier] dramatically increased our productivity and allowed us to work more quickly and more efficiently. This project would have been impossible without it.”

After main support widening and railroad modification were completed, the bridge-widening project has moved into the next of the four phases, consisting of the main-bridge-widening portion of the project, which is on schedule thanks in no small part to the workers’ ability to quickly transition and reconfigure lanes.

The Huey P. Long Bridge Widening Project represents no small undertaking for the city of New Orleans and its surrounding areas and promises to play an increasingly vital role in the region’s return to its former splendor.

About The Author: Pyde is a marketing manager with Quixote Transportation Inc., Chicago.

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