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MDOT Darkness
Major Coast Roadways Still Dark and Repairs Unfinished Four Month After Katrina

by Keith Burton - GCN     Filed 12/27/05

Progress on repairs of the Coast's major roadways seems to elude the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, MDOT officials promised they would get the Coast's major roadways repaired enough to use. But four months after the hurricane, MDOT is missing some things, including its promise to get U.S. 90 open to four lanes through Harrison County. They are also keeping motorists in the dark on other key roadways and bridges.

U.S. 49 through Gulfport is missing most of its street lights. This dangerous, six-lane highway through Gulfport's northern territory is among the most heavily traveled and congested roads on the Coast, yet its street lights, which are needed for safety, have yet to be repaired.

MDOT officials tell GCN that the repairs are delayed because the lights have a unique mounting system that has to be upgraded to a more recent standard and the parts are not available at this time. Officials say they have no idea when the lights will be back on.

The street lights on the heavily-traveled I-110 bridge are also out and have been that way since the hurricane.

Meanwhile, MDOT's promise to have all four lanes of highway 90 open has yet to be realized. The roadway is only two lanes from Gulfport's eastern boundary with Biloxi, all the way to Pass Christian.

The darkened U.S. 49, and the unfinished work on U.S. 90 are safety issues that Coast residents must deal with. The darkness on U.S. 49 is particularly dangerous as the road has a single center turning lane that is more like a suicide lane when trying to merge across the highway.

Meanwhile, MDOT's promise to rebuild U.S. 90 in the near future turns out to be less than a rebuild. Shortly after Katrina, Southern District Highway Commissioner said MDOT would completely rebuild U.S. 90 some time after the initial post-Katrina repairs were made. It turns out not to be the case. In a recent interview, Brown told GCN that the road will just be "smooth-over" and curbs repaired. A date of completion for even that limited work has not been announced.

MDOT is under fire for being an agency that is monolithic, slow, and difficult to deal with. Transportation experts with the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal recommended that MDOT be reformed by the Legislature. MDOT's current structure is unique in the 50 states.

MDOT is also getting criticized for its slow progress on rebuilding the Biloxi-Ocean Springs, and Bay St. Louis bridges that were destroyed by Katrina. Work on those bridges has yet to begin as MDOT has claimed it needs federal money. While MDOT received over $2-billion just last August to spend on roads in Mississippi for the next six years, Brown told GCN that it didn't want to reallocate any of the projects earmarked for that money to repair the Coast's bridges, and needed more federal money instead.

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