Students in Louisiana learn the history of the Huey P. Long Bridge.
Angelle Bergeron / ENR
Students in Louisiana learn the history of the Huey P. Long Bridge.

As Louisiana builds its roads, rails and bridges, including those damaged in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is inviting children to watch. The new public-awareness program is intended to excite youngsters about their transportation infrastructure and attract them into future careers in construction, transportation and engineering.

The program is being coordinated through Louisiana’s Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development program (TIMED), the state’s $5-billion funding program. The effort allows elementary school students to interact with project staff, engage in interactive storytelling, play project-related games and actually touch materials used in construction projects.

“Kids don’t always know about construction projects going on right in their own backyards,” says Meghan Legaux, TIMED spokeswoman and a program organizers. “To be able to reach a part of the population that normally wouldn’t seek out the information is really neat. When kids get excited, they take that home to their parents, and that increases public awareness and involvement.”

The program, called TIMED to Learn, kicked off last month at Live Oak Manor Elementary School in Waggaman, La., located near the $989-million Huey P. Long Bridge widening project. The project is one of 16 being advanced through TIMED.

About 100 third- and fourth-graders donned yellow hardhats to learn about the history of the bridge, its namesake and the ongoing construction. “Around third grade, boys tend to lose interest in reading, and some girls start to spark an interest in science and math,” Legaux says.

Hardhat-sporting kids get industry view.
Angelle Bergeron / ENR
Hardhat-sporting kids get industry view.
Angelle Bergeron / ENR
Hardhat-sporting kids get industry view.

TIMED worked with Louisiana teachers to develop a program that would meet Louisiana Dept. of Education grade-level expectations, Legaux notes. Participating teachers have access to several curriculum ideas for science, social studies and language arts. The children all received a “goodie bag” that includes related follow-up activities.

The expedition even enthused adults. “This is so interesting to see how this stuff works,” says Dannie Becnel, school principal. “But they couldn’t pay me enough to work on that bridge,” she adds, as she observes Mike Neyman, a senior project inspector, fit a student with a safety harness and inflatable vest.

Becnel says the experience will resonate with the children. “If they go across the bridge with their parents, they can say, ‘Mommy and Daddy, I know about the bolts that hold this bridge up.’ Or if they are stuck in traffic, they can say, ‘Oh, if this was fixed, the traffic wouldn’t be there,’” she says.

The goal for TIMED to Learn is to eventually make the program available to elementary students statewide and tailor its content to the nearest TIMED project, Legaux says.

TIMED has also created other project-related programs geared to the young, including TIMED to Drive Safe, which targets high school students in areas surrounding the 229 miles of active construction on Louisiana highways.