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MDOT Making Progress on U.S. 90 Lighting and Planting Trees
Devastated Beachfront Highway Gradually Seeing Improvements

By Keith Burton - GCN   5/8/07

For nearly 20 months the beachfront highway along the Coast has been a highway of bleak post-Katrina landscapes, but those views are slowly changing. The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has been busy planting hundreds of trees along the highway from Biloxi to Pass Christian. Trees that were lost in the terrible storm surge from hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005.

MDOT's Southern Region Commissioner Wayne Brown says that workers will celebrate the planting of their 1,000th tree this Thursday. In an interview with GCN Brown said the trees are part of a major series of renovations for the busy scenic highway that will take place over the next three years. He said MDOT plans to plant as many as 1,700 trees along the roadway.

In addition to the trees, which include hardy Live Oaks, Cypress and Palms, work is also currently getting started to replace the broken street lights near the I-110 and U.S. 90 area. Work crews were in the area near the Biloxi lighthouse Tuesday. The streetlights in that area have also been out since the hurricane. Other street lights east and west of the I-110 area were replaced by the city and Mississippi Power shortly after the storm, but this section of the road was the responsibility of MDOT.

Brown told GCN that work to get the lights on the I-110 bridge is also getting started, but he said that he was a bit disappointed that the work is not moving fast enough.

Work on rebuilding the bumpy, damaged highway 90 is expected to get underway late this year. Brown said that contracts, representing four phases of work, will be let this summer and decided upon in October. He said that survey work underway has found more repairs were needed, especially regarding needed subsurface upgrading and drainage, which have slowed the timing of the repairs a bit.

"We hope to have much of the repairs on 90 linked to the opening of the new Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge, but it appears right now that the bridge will open before all of the highway repairs are finished," Brown said.

Currently, the highway is in poor shape. Its undulating surface and numerous bumps are the result of undermining by the storm surge that washed over the roadway. Emergency repairs have made the road usable, but it is generally an unpleasant ride. Heavy rains also cause significant street flooding due to drainage problems.

Traffic signals that are currently in place are also temporary. Brown said that all of the current traffic lights will be replaced by new synchronized traffic lights that will be toughened to survive stronger hurricanes. The previous system of traffic lights were designed for up to 90 mph winds.

"The new traffic lights will be able to take winds up to 130 mph," Brown said.

When the work on U.S. 90 gets underway, Brown said that contractors will try to do as much work as possible during the night, when traffic is light, but some of the work will have to be done during daytime hours since concrete will be needed. Brown said that getting concrete at night is more expensive.

There is a lot riding on the speed that MDOT takes on all of the work. The recovery of the Coast is largely dependant on the roads and bridge work that is underway. The new U.S. 90 bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs is set to have two lanes open in mid November and all of the ten-lane bridge open in the Spring of 2008. Brown says the contractor is currently on schedule for that bridge. (Click on photo left to enlarge)

Work on the bridge is truly evident as the footings on both ends are in place and the roadway itself is taking shape along the northern side of the bridge. Brown said the contractor is working on that side first, as it will be what will open in November. He said the south side of the bridge has the walking path, which adds construction time.

In a significant milestone, MDOT and Coast officials will celebrate the opening of a portion of the new bridge over the Bay of St. Louis in west Harrison County on May 17. This bridge, which also services U.S. 90, connects western Harrison County with Hancock County. That bridge replaces another key bridge that was destroyed by Katrina.

MDOT has been widely criticized for the agency's initial slow response time in getting needed repairs underway. The work is massive and the agency is not used to such pressures, however it is a positive sign that progress is being made.

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