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Construction starts on new guard rails, wider shoulders for Causeway Bridge

Lane closures will be kept at a minimum

METAIRIE, La. — America's longest bridge, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, is now getting its largest safety upgrade in 50 years.

Friday, a crew working from a barge in the lake floated a section of concrete into place.

It's part of a new 16-feet-by-1000-feet long safety shoulder now being installed on the bridge.

This is the first of 12 safety shoulders, six on each span to be built in between the crossovers on the Causeway over the next year.

Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou says it quadruples the emergency stopping area on the bridge.

"Every day we have 10-12 breakdowns on this bridge," Dufrechou said. "The more emergency stopping area we can get, the better, the safer this bridge will be."

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The concrete sections, caps and pilings are pre-cast off site.

Bill Moulton from Boh Brothers, the contractor on the job, said pre-building the materials makes the project go quicker.

"We're in really good shape for hitting our completion date which is Aug. 1 on the first span," Moulton said. "We should be completing a span every month there afterwards."

RELATED: Fiery Causeway crash shows need for expanded shoulder, officials say

The new safety shoulders are being built at the same time new higher guardrails are going up on the older southbound span.

Dufrechou says the new barriers are designed to prevent overboard accidents like the one on the bridge two weeks ago.

"We're adding a good two feet of steel on top of the existing concrete barrier," Dufrechou said. "This is going to get this bridge up to 21st Century standards."

ALSO: He became a Causeway cop after his dad was killed on the span by an impaired driver; today he saved 2 lives there

The guardrails are going up at night and most of the work in the new shoulders is being built from a barge in the water.

That is expected to minimize lane closures.

"Highway 11, it's closed for months on end for safety improvements," Dufrechou said. "This one you can't do that, we have to keep it open."

The price tag on both projects is now estimated to be $100 million.

The work is now expected to be complete next spring.

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