The Rigolets Bridge opened on June 9, 1930, as one of the first public bridges crossing Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. It spanned almost 3,900 feet and carried U.S. Highway 90 connecting New Orleans to Slidell. The bridge is located at the edge of Fort Pike, a former Confederate post built during the Civil War, and is sometimes referred to as the “Fort Pike Bridge.”
In 1925, there was a movement for free public bridges to be constructed in the outer areas of New Orleans. Prior to this, the privately owned Watson-Williams Toll Bridge was the only means of transportation across Lake Pontchartrain to Slidell. However, the Louisiana Highway Commission, claiming a lack of funds, shot down motions for a public bridge. Instead, ferries brought cars across.
As governor of Louisiana, Huey Long opposed toll bridges and offered to purchase the Watson-Williams Bridge to make it public. When his offer was rejected, Long called for new bridges to be built at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur passes. Governor Long gave the keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Rigolets Bridge, whose opening ensured the failure of Watson-Williams toll bridge.
75 years later, the Rigolets Bridge began to show its age. Since U.S. Highway 90 serves as a federal evacuation route, the Department of Transportation and Development believed a new bridge was necessary for hurricane evacuation out of New Orleans to the east. In 2009, a new Rigolets Bridge now slightly over one mile long, was opened with a 12-foot lane going in each direction and 8 feet of shoulder space for emergencies. The bridge is 72 feet at its highest point, replacing the original bridge’s mechanical swing for ships to pass. Concrete from the original bridge was used to rebuild Fort Pike’s seawall, heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina. The replacement bridge cost about $50 million and served as the only accessible route from New Orleans to the Gulf Coast until the opening of I-10, completed in 2011.
The Rigolets Bridge is also the site of the 1967 car accident in which actress Jayne Mansfield was killed when her vehicle slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer rig that was slowed by a cloud of mosquito insecticide.To learn more about the community that once lived in this area, take our tour about Lake Catherine & the Rigolets.