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Governor Barbour Says Feds Will Pay 100 Percent of 95-Foot High Biloxi Bay Bridge
by Keith Burton - GCN   2/28/06

Governor Haley Barbour stepped into the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge controversy Tuesday to announce that the Federal Highway Administration will fund 100 percent of the cost of a 95-foot high bridge across the bay to Ocean Springs.

The governor's announcement late Tuesday afternoon clears a hurdle mentioned frequently by Southern District Highway Commissioner Wayne Brown with the Mississippi Department of Transportation as to where the money will come from to build the bridge in excess of what has already been announced.

There has never been any doubt that the federal government would provide the funding to replace the bridge destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in August.

"I appreciate President Bush, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta and the Federal Highway Administration for their cooperation and support. The federal decision to allow a higher bridge will help economic development on the coast and the federal government's willingness to pay 100 percent of the cost of the new, higher bridge is an important commitment that will help our state," said Governor Barbour in a news release.

"When Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown asked me to help, I was pleased to go to Washington and make our case for the higher bridge."

There remains questions over how the contract for the bridge will be made. The only contractor that bid on the project, Granite Archer Western, a joint venture of several construction and design companies, bid $274.9 million for the Biloxi Bay bridge, with the expectation they would construct a bridge 85-feet high. Even so, their $274.9 million bid was nearly $75 million more than MDOT estimated.

MDOT is trying to determine whether it will have to rebid the project, or find a way to have Granite Archer Western adjust their bid, which is a legal issue that must be resolved.

With the governor's announcement, it appears that any price will be paid to build the bridge. This calls to question why not build a bridge with a draw bridge?

The project remains for MDOT to develop, though it is clear at this point that financing whatever is built will not be an issue.

While a 95-foot bridge can be financed to replace the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge, to build such a bridge may make any future bridge across Back Bay for a north-south connector too expensive. As GCN reported earlier, the decision on the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge impacts what can be built elsewhere in the bay.

The proposed H-Route north-south connector is already too expensive to build and it was planned without a draw bridge. Will the new 95-foot bridge require all other bridges to be built that high? Neither MDOT, the City of Biloxi, or the Governor has expressed any concern over this issue. Regardless, with the way this is developing, we are talking about a billion dollars for new bridges in Back Bay. Without a realistic transportation plan, urban planning experts have said Biloxi will have serious problems as it grows.

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge cost $35-million when it opened in 1937. Today, replacing it is estimated at $1.4 billion. Contractors should perhaps paint the Biloxi Bay bridge and future Back Bay bridges a similar color.

The 95-foot bridge was not a recommendation of the governor's charrette experts, who called for more bridges, and a system of roads, not larger bridges. Barbour seems to have abandoned that plan by his own experts.

More Information:

Coast Guard Decision on MDOT's Biloxi Bridge Made Without Opposition Documents - GCN

Rebuilding Coast Bridges Hits More Delays - GCN

Decision on Biloxi Bridge Has Far-Reaching Impact, H-Route North/South Connector Dead - GCN Special Report

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