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Blake Pontchartrain: The Marconi train overpass

Hey Blake: Who painted the bridge at Marconi Drive?

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Hey Blake,

The old train overpass on Marconi Drive used to have beautiful irises painted on it. Now they are faded and there's graffiti and big gray squares of paint. Who painted the original bridge and can they do it again?

Sara Schnell

Dear Sara,

  You're not alone in your curiosity about the Marconi Drive railroad bridge. In fact, we heard from reader Raymond Stelly a few days after you wrote, asking the same question. That's probably because the bridge is in such a high-profile spot, seen by thousands of people traveling through New Orleans City Park each day.

  The history of Marconi Drive itself dates back to March 1937. Like many park improvement projects of the time, the construction was a product of the federal Works Progress Administration. New Orleans Mayor Robert Maestri cut the ribbon on the new thoroughfare on April 13, 1938. It is named for Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor widely known as the father of radio. The railroad underpass, which The Times-Picayune reported was built at a cost of $760,000, was dedicated in June 1953.

  The irises and pink and gray color scheme you recall date to the 1980s, when then-Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti's prison art program repainted the underpass. The program began in 1984, when inmates helped paint Christmas murals on the old Orleans Parish Prison. Their work gave a fresh new look to dozens of structures over the years. Longtime Foti spokeswoman Danae Columbus could not recall the exact year the Marconi bridge was painted but said inmates initially repainted the entire bridge, then came back and added flowers.

  Recent activity you may have seen at the underpass has less to do with its look and more with safety. WWL-TV reported that after at least five instances of 18-wheelers crashing into the structure, city crews have installed warning signs and safety mechanisms to prevent future accidents. As for a new paint job, the underpass is owned and operated by the railroads, so any decision to repaint it would be up to them.

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