A notable landmark in Louisiana and bordering six parishes is Lake Pontchartrain. This massive 629 square mile lake sits just outside the city of New Orleans. Surrounding this lake are several major interstates, such as the I-10, I-12, and I-55.
In fact, if you have ever traveled on any of these interstates, you may have noticed a roadway in the distance on Lake Pontchartrain. For those traveling north or south of the lake, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway offers a convenient and quicker option.
Is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway a Bridge?
The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is not one bridge but rather two parallel bridges that run directly through the heart of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. The bridges traveling north and south connect the cities of Mandeville and Metairie, connecting to New Orleans.
How Long Is Lake Pontchartrain Bridge?
For many years, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, also known as the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge, held the title of the longest bridge in the world over water. It remains one of the top ten longest bridges in the world and holds the top spot as the longest bridge within the U.S.
The bridge spans 24 continuous miles over the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. For about eight miles, the bridge is famously known for the loss of sight of all the land surrounding it. It is a magnificent but equally frightening sight for many who choose this road to travel across, especially those who cross the bridge for the first time.
How Old Is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway?
The bridge was initially built as only one two-lane bridge with its completion in 1956, with traffic traveling in both directions. The construction of the bridge began in 1955 and was completed quickly in just 14 months.
The popularity of the causeway grew because it allows drivers going the north or south to cut across the lake along the most direct route rather than circumventing the lake either to the east or west.
Due to the increase in travel across the one-lane bridge, it became increasingly clear that another span was necessary to keep up with the growing traffic and demand. In 1969, another span of the bridge built officially gave the Lake Pontchartrain causeway the title of the longest bridge in the world and allowed for each bridge to travel in one direction.
Is the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge Dangerous?
There are many reasons why this bridge is often terrifying to drivers as they traverse from one end to another, but do these drivers have a reason to fear the Pontchartrain Bridge?
Unfortunately, yes. The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is not just famous for its length and scenic views, but also for the tragic accidents that have taken place throughout its history. Although the bridge itself is not particularly high or the lake waters below it are particularly deep, any collision on either of these bridges can cause significant injuries or fatalities.
Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Deaths
There have been many notorious accidents along the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway that have ended in death for one or more victims. The accidents that take place along the bridge are mostly motor vehicle accidents with multiple car involvement or in some cases, single-vehicle collisions.
However, in 1964 there was a tragic incident in which two barges crashed into the bridge and caused a collapse of the roadway, sending a large motorcoach bus into the waters below where six victims did not survive. Over the years, there have been many other car accidents in which people have lost their lives while traveling on the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge.
Why Is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway a Risk to Drivers and Passengers?
It is apparent that the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway can increase the risk of an accident or injuries to those traveling, but what exactly are the dangers present on the bridge endangering drivers and passengers?
Various factors increase the chances of an accident on the bridge:
#1. Risk of Hazardous Weather
Some of the most common weather threats along the Pontchartrain Causeway include rain, winds, and fog. Fog is one of the most common culprits of weather-related accidents on the bridge due to limited visibility. On a foggy morning, it is not uncommon for multiple accidents to occur along the bridge.
High winds are a dangerous threat, particularly to higher-profile vehicles. Due to the unobstructed presence of the bridge along the lake, there can be dangerously high winds when hazardous weather approaches.
While there are restrictions on the size and weight of vehicles able to travel along the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, many semis and tractor-trailers are eligible to use this route. On a clear day with no hazardous weather conditions or traffic jams, you can cross the 24-mile bridge in just 25 minutes. This makes it an appealing route for truckers that may want to avoid taking longer routes with potentially heavier traffic.
When there are no high winds, fog, or other conditions that affect driving present, the speed limit on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is 65 mph. Unfortunately, many negligent drivers may attempt to break the speed limit, which can create dangerous conditions for those around them.
Speeding can be deadly on this 24-mile bridge when unforeseen circumstances can cause the need to come to a halt or avoid an obstacle in the road. Traffic jams, slower drivers, and an accident up ahead can combine with speeding drivers to cause a motor vehicle accident.
#4. Low Barriers
One of the most fatal flaws of the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge is the original design and the lower barriers along the sides of the southbound bridge. At the time of the building of the bridge, cars were much smaller in general with lower profiles and the frequency of cargo and commercial trucks were much lower.
Unfortunately, over the years, vehicles have only gotten larger and heavier. Many of the fatal accidents that occur on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway involve a vehicle that careens over the bridge into the waters below. In recent years, projects are underway to heighten the railings across the bridge to reduce the likelihood of vehicles falling over the bridge.
#5. Slower Traffic
With the distinction as one of the longest bridges in the world and the longest in the country, the Pontchartrain Bridge attracts many visitors that want to experience the drive. For some, the drive can be scenic and exciting, while others may become quickly overwhelmed by the vastness of the lake around them and the seemingly endless road ahead.
It is not uncommon for rescue personnel to receive distress calls to the scene of an incident on the bridge where a driver is unable to proceed driving across the bridge due to fear of the bridge and its length. New drivers on the bridge can create hazardous conditions by causing traffic to slow or come to a stop behind them.
#6. A Longer Wait for Help
It is not difficult to see why having an emergency on the Pontchartrain Causeway can be a cause for concern. If you have the unfortunate circumstance of being a victim of a car accident while on the bridge, you will likely have to wait a long time for help.
Depending on where you are on the bridge and the traffic at the time of an accident, it can take a significant time for the police or paramedics to reach you while on the Pontchartrain Bridge.
Are there Other Unsafe Louisiana Bridges?
Louisiana is no stranger to bridges. Several of Louisiana’s 13,000 bridges are notorious with motorists that must cross them on their commutes and travels. Whether by design, location, or wear and tear, many Louisiana bridges create risks to those who travel on them each day.
Some of Louisiana’s other notable bridges due to dangers or deficiencies include:
- Twin Span Bridge
- High Rise Bridge
- Atchafalaya Basin Bridge
- Calcasieu River Bridge
- Horace Wilkinson Bridge
- Bonnet Carre Spillway Bridge
What Should You Do If You Are in a Car Accident on a Bridge?
There are certain steps you must take after a car accident to keep you safe, but when you are in an accident on a bridge you must take extra care to get help quickly and find safety however possible.
#1. Stay Safe
Once your car comes to a stop after a collision on a bridge, make sure you quickly observe where you are and what is around you. If you are in a portion of the bridge where there is no shoulder nearby, it is best to remain in your vehicle. Exiting your vehicle on a narrow bridge with no shoulder can put you at high risk of getting hit by another vehicle.
In the unlikely event that your vehicle goes over a bridge, you must first and foremost remain calm. You must try to exit your vehicle as quickly as possible by whatever means possible and swim to safety if you can or stay afloat as you await rescue.
#2. Call for Help
In many instances, an accident will happen while having many other vehicles around you and someone may call for help as soon as they see the accident. However, do not rely on others to call, if you can do so. When you call 911, let the operator know about your condition, the condition of your passengers, injuries, and your location. When calling for assistance, request that both EMS and the police arrive at the scene.
#3. Get Medical Treatment
Do not underestimate your injuries. Even if you feel as though you are fine and just in shock from the accident, it is best to seek an evaluation from a medical professional to make sure there are no injuries to you that require prompt medical attention.
Oftentimes, accident victims will feel they have no injuries only to discover once the adrenaline and chaos of the accident pass, that they are in fact in discomfort or pain. If you do not take an ambulance to the hospital from the scene, you should still get yourself to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center as soon as possible.
It is always best to take a cautious approach to injuries. The reality is that the moments in an accident are fast and you may not realize the impact on your body a crash has inflicted in the immediate aftermath.
#4. Collect the Evidence You Can at the Scene
Bridge accidents are unique in that you may not have the ability to move about or get to the side of the road or a grassy area as you would on another roadway. However, this does not mean you cannot make use of what you have available to collect any evidence you can.
If you are safely in your vehicle and physically able to do so you can attempt to take photographs of the scene from your perspective and the surrounding environment as you wait for help to arrive. Do not get out of your vehicle on the bridge to do this, as you are placing yourself in unnecessary danger.
#5. Contact a Car Accident Lawyer
Depending on the type of bridge accident you are in, and the number of vehicles involved, the fault and liability for a bridge accident can be challenging. It is always best to contact a Louisiana automobile accident attorney if you are in an accident on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway or any other Louisiana bridge.
A lawyer for you can help you with the negotiations with an insurance company for a claim for damages and help advise you as to when and if a lawsuit could be necessary in your case. With the assistance of an attorney, you will be able to seek compensation for any losses you incur after the accident such as medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, and damages to your vehicle.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.