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Thousands Turn Out for Opening Ceremonies of the New Bay St. Louis Bridge
by Keith Burton - GCN 5/17/07

The opening of a major new bridge always carries the hopes of a community toward the future, but perhaps never as much as the opening of the New Bay St. Louis bridge Thursday afternoon.

"It is a great joy for us to be a part of this historic occasion in the recovery of the largest national disaster of our nation's history," said Butch Brown, director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Brown said that thanks to the Federal Highway Administration, 100 percent funding was allowed for the project, as well as an extension of days, which allowed the bridge to be constructed in what is considered record time.

Ceremonies for the bridge drew thousands of Coast residents and dignitaries from Jackson and Washington. Under a clear sunny sky Brown, hosted the ceremony that marked the opening of two lanes of the bridge. The old U.S. 90 bridge was destroyed by Katrina.

Brown praised all the officials that helped make the bridge opening possible and noted that it would not have happened without the tremendous cooperation between the state and federal government in cutting a lot of the red tape associated with projects of this size. The $270 million bridge is not yet complete, but getting two lanes of the bridge open on this date he said was a considerable achievement by both MDOT and the contractor, Granite-Archer-Western. The rest of the bridge is scheduled to be completed by November of this year.

Governor Haley Barbour praised the efforts of MDOT and the federal government for expediting the rebuilding of the bridge and working to solve the inevitable bureaucratic delays as well as coming through with the funding. Barbour thanked the state's congressional leadership of Sen. Thad Cochran, Sen. Trent Lott and Rep. Gene Taylor for their help in Washington for getting the funding to replace the Bay St. Louis Bridge and the Biloxi Ocean Springs Bridge, which is also under construction.

The new bridge is much higher than the bridge it replaces. Using a new "design-build" method of engineering and building the bridge, Brown said, saved time in its construction. The new bridge was designed to be higher than what a "Katrina-type" hurricane can knock down. The new bridge also has higher approach and departure ramps to protect it from future storms.

In addition to the four lanes of roadway it will have when finished, it also has a walking lane for people who want to cross the two-mile distance on foot or bicycle.

Both the mayors of Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian were thankful for the reopening of the bridge. Residents from Bay St. Louis have had to go more than 30 miles go around the bay to reach Pass Christian while the bridge has been out, a trip that usually would take just 10 minutes with the bridge in place. Pass Christian has been particularly isolated at the west end of Harrison County, well away from stores and businesses.

Pass Christian is among the most hurt of the Coast's cities that saw devastation from Katrina and little has been rebuilt. The community lost nearly 85 percent of all of its homes and 100 percent of its governmental buildings. Only a few stores have reopened in Pass Christian since Katrina. Getting the bridge open will help generate additional traffic into the city to help it recover.

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