2,000 walk, run to celebrate wider Huey P. Long Bridge

JEFFERSON (AP) — Vintage and modern cars carried about 20 people who had attended the Huey P. Long Bridge’s original opening in 1935 and more than 2,000 runners and walkers from around Louisiana crossed the bridge on foot to mark its $1.2 billion expansion in a celebration saddened by a runner’s death.

The 59-year-old man collapsed minutes into the 5-kilometer race and died shortly afterward at a hospital in spite of help both from paramedics and from nurses who were participating in the race, said Col. John Fortunato, a sheriff’s office spokesman. He said he did not know the man’s name or where he was from. The Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office did not immediately return a call Sunday.

The bridge upriver from New Orleans has traffic lanes hung on either side of a railroad bridge. For nearly 80 years, drivers faced two 9-foot lanes with no shoulders — a nerve-wracking drive that Jefferson Parish political and business leaders said has hindered development on the parish’s west bank.

The expansion, completed early and under budget, created three 11-foot lanes — with inside and outside shoulders — in each direction. The traffic circles at each end also were reconfigured.

State Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas walked the 5-kilometer route and told the crowd that the project is already paying off with new businesses moving into the area.

Jefferson Parish political, business and civic leaders have been pushing to widen the bridge since the 1970s.

Jimmy Dubuisson, 86, of Covington was among the “35-ers” who led the first drive across the expansion. He said his family’s 1932 Chevrolet barely managed the 40-mph minimum speed up the bridge’s approach. “There was no stopping you had to keep going,” he said.

He described the bridge as “the best thing that ever happened around here.”

“Having you here today makes this event even more special,” LeBas said. “I know you guys remember when you had to cross on a ferry.”

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