Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Bridge Politics In 1927

 In 1927 controversy was swirling about the need to build a bridge over Lake Pontchartrain between New Orleans and the Northshore. Several locations for the endpoints were proposed, and state and local politicians had definite opinions of where best to place the bridge, how to finance it, and how to protect that investment from future competition.

And so it was in St. Tammany Parish. A proposed toll bridge built by private interests wanted to be protected against any future "free" bridges built by the state (within 30 miles), and that generated considerable debate.

Built in 1928, the Watson-Williams bridge did just that, and people were outraged that the new bridge would only serve the east end of the parish and prevent any other bridges from being built to serve the Mandeville area. Complicating the matter was the demand for free bridges to be built at the Chef Menteur/Rigolets crossing near Fort Pike.

This editorial in the January 1, 1927, edition of the St. Tammany Farmer explains the situation, and it mentions some interesting facts.

Click on the image above to make it larger and more readable. 

Text from the above editorial:


It is psychologically inconsistent to attempt to popularize anything against the will of the people. There may be no legal way of preventing it and it may be forced upon them, but if its success depends upon the attitude of the people, then the good will of the people most be gained.

Having an interest in the development of St. Tammany pariah as a whole, we view with alarm the building of any toll bridge that is protected from competition by an exclusive franchise that forbids the building of any other bridge within thirty miles.

We have always opposed the granting of any franchise for a toll bridge that practically cuts off all traffic between St. Tammany and New Orleans except at the extreme east of the parish, and with this in view we believe the granting of such a franchise for the building of the Watson-Willliams bridge was an outrage upon the people.

That we were justified in this vlewpoint was strengthened by the protest of citizens at mass meetings In New Orleans, at public gatherings and in the press.

The desire to build this bridge in the face of public sentiment against it, and in the face of the fact that one of its principal supporters, an attorney for the company, made the statement at a public bearing that their bridge could not be built "if the free bridges were built at the Chef-Rigolets" is a puzzle that has not been solved by people interested In developments in St. Tammany parish and New Orleans.

Caligula built a bridge between Baise and Puteola, but surely the big financial interests behind this venture can not be accused of dementia. It is reasonable to conclude that there is something behind this bridge beyond the profits of automobile traffic, especially when a bridge could have been built between Goose Point and Milneburg with an avoidance of the completion of a free bridge within six miles or so, and with the assurance of heavy traffic and large developments in both St. Tammany and New Orleans. The people would like to know what influences are behind such a situation.

It does not seem reasonable that the demand for direct communication between New Orleans, St. Tammany and the Coast country can be stifled. Eventually the bridge from Goose Point to Milneburg will be built, and pending that accomplishment sea planes and ferries of some kind that will take care of passenger and automobile transportation will be devised and put into service.

The farmers of St. Tammany would be greatly benefited by a bridge at this point. It would enable them to marker their products daily in New Orleans and to place vegetables and fruit on the table within a few hours after they were taken from the field. It is beyond reason to believe that a beautiful body of water such as Lake Pontchartrain should be made unavailable to the use of the people in order to secure profits to a private Corporation or to force developments in an other direction.

The ST. TAMMANY FARMER, January 1, 1927
End of editorial text

A proposed bridge was being sought between the port of Milneburg in New Orleans and Goose Point south of Lacombe. "Eventually the bridge from Goose Point to Milneburg will be built," the editorial states. That would have changed the future of Lacombe, for sure.

Well, they came pretty close to being right.

Until that bridge was built, the editorial went on to say, ferries and sea planes would have to provide
transportation across the lake, as well as move St. Tammany products to the markets of New Orleans. 

The editorial furor continued, with another analysis published just 29 days later. 

Here is the text of that editorial above:


Even it ferries and hydroplanes must be the final resort, St. Tammany will fight to the last for direct communication with New Orleans either at Goose Point, or Mandeville. 

New Orleans must finally join in this fight to aid in her own development. It will not only be necessary to her own expansion in meeting suburban demands; it will be jointly important in Gulf Coast development and in the popularization of the route from Mobile into Louisiana.

But It is of immediate importance that no change be made in our plans for free bridges at the Chef and Rigolets, lost in a partisan legislature but emphatically endorsed by the people at the polls. Some interests have been persistent in efforts to divert developments from St. Tammany parish—to prevent free bridges and force developments in another direction. We have letters in evidence of this which we may at some time publish.

Beware of your enemy when they come bearing gifts. It may not be expected that we should receive unquestioned, proposals from those who have opposed us. We now have an administration pledged to our free bridge plans.

The Highway Commission is capable and informed and may be trusted to carry out the law and conform to its provisions for free bridges connecting up the highways as originally intended and for which federal aid was given. We know that if this is done we will be entirely within the law and beyond the reach of petty legal interference.

We do not know what complications may arise from deviations. The aerial route suggested is something for the future and entirely apart from our immediate operations. Nobody would be opposed to free ferries if nothing else were involved, and they were not used as propaganda against the necessity of building bridges.

We do not Iook with favor upon any proposition that increases the distance between Slidell and the free bridges. St. Tammany has contributed to the building of this highway and deserves to share in the benefits to be derived.

Under the caption, "'Where Confusion- Division," an editorial in Wednesday's edition of The Times-Picayune ably discusses this matter. We publish it in full below:

Since the announcement in mid-January that the Highway Commission's engineering force actually had begun surveys and borings for the Chef-Rigolets bridges, it has been proposed that the community launch an agitation for immediate free ferries at those crossings. 

Free Ferries

The project was initiated, in the public prints at least by a gentleman who wrote himself opposed to free bridges even while he demanded tree ferries. The latter idea has its appeal, of course. The imposition of tollage upon public highways, whether for bridges or ferries, goes against the grain and wins tolerance only as a temporary, and temporarily unavoidable nuisance. But have those supporters of the Chef-Rigolets free bridge cause who welcomed the free terry scheme offhand ever taken time to study its bearings upon the first and vastly more important project—and to wonder why free ferries are demanded just as the bridge surveys are begun-wand by the evolved opponents of free bridges?
The contract covering the Chef-Rigolets ferries and awarded by the former Highway Commission has yet more than a year to run, expiring in March, 1928. It is, we assume, a binding document enforcible in the courts. To grant the sudden demand for immediate free ferries, the present commission would have to make terms with the contractor, purchase ferry equipment and organize the operating force.

The money for all this would have to come, we fear, from highway Fund No. 2, from which the bridge construction must be financed. Any attempt to set up free ferries at the Chef and Rigolets out of the general highway fund would inevitably and naturally provoke demands that the commission finance free ferries throughout the state, embroiling us with our neighbors and arousing distrust and hostility akin to that created by the false charges, last summer, that New Orleans was trying to raid the general highway fund for the bridges.

In brief, and whether that was the motive behind the "immediate tree ferry" proposal or not, its adoption as a community slogan would stir up confusion and strife and place further obstacles in the way of the commIssion's announced plan to press forward as rapidly as possible to the construction of the bridges which will end once for all the temporary imposition of ferry tolls.

Against any effort to divide the supporters of the bridges and by dividing to block or defeat Governor Simpson's program for their early construction, Orleanians should be constantly watchful.

Now has come the supplementary proposal of the mayor's advisory bridge committee for a change of the Rigolets bridge location in order that it may serve a "short cut" to the Mississippi coast. If it be settled and accepted that the proposed "short cut" is not to interfere with nor delay completion of the present highway route to Slidell, this recommendation consists with the suggestions of the federal engineers who inspected and approved the present route, and with the announced plan of the Highway Commission.

The commission already has arranged with the war department for an aerial survey of the "short cut," and is planning to fix the location of the Rigolets bridge with that project in mind.

But care must be taken to prevent this supplementary "short cut" plan, admirable in its proper time and order, from becoming entangled or twisted into a scheme for abandoning the present route to Slidell entirely and substituting therefor a brand new highway which would lengthen materially the journey to Slidell and thus defeat one of the prime purposes of the existing and officially adopted route.

Let it be remembered that the federal engineers, who first broached the "short cut" idea, expressly declared in their support that "it will not take the place of the connection between Slidell and the Rigolets, as this link is necessary to provide connection with the Louisiana system at Slidell."

Whether or not the new suggestions are intended to divide the Chef-Rigolets bridge supporters against themselves and raise up new obstructions and delays, let us all try to keep the vital bridge objective clearly in mind and maintain a solid front in its support, instead of shooting off at tangents, losing unity and direction and thereby helping the anti-free bridge forces and interests to defeat the movement for those urgently needed spans just as the final victory of the free bridge campaign is in sight.

End of editorial comment

The people of the west end of St. Tammany Parish wanted their bridge and they wanted it now. Twenty-nine years later, they got it.

 See also:

Planning to build the Causeway Started Early

The Watson-Williams Bridge 

Pearl River, LA: Gateway to the Miss. Gulf Coast