Back to the Future?
By Keith Burton - GCN 4/24/07 Updated 4/25/06
The Biloxi City Council voted Tuesday to approve a study that is part of a pre-Katrina plan by the city's administration on a new Popps Ferry bridge.
The resolution authorizes the acceptance of a proposal submitted by Neel-Schaffer, Inc. for a $2 million conceptual engineering and environmental study of Popp’s Ferry Bridge & Approaches.
GCN contacted Biloxi spokesman Vincent Creel to learn more about the resolution. Creel told GCN Tuesday morning that the resolution is the first part of a required process that could lead to a new, or additional bridge for the heavily congested Popps Ferry route to north Biloxi.
Back before Hurricane Katrina, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway was pushing for a new Popps Ferry bridge, which he saw as a better alternative to the severe congestion that often occurs on the road. Since the hurricane, those plans were stalled. The Neel-Schaffer study is to determine the footprint of a new bridge, and offer several alternatives, such as building a parallel bridge, building a completely new bridge, or adding new two lane bridge and raising the height on the drawspan of the existing bridge.
GCN is on record for building an entirely new bridge that would service the Cedar Lake area and span the Biloxi Back Bay south to Rodenberg Avenue. Such a bridge would aid in Keesler access, make the new high school (photo left) more accessible to the Biloxi peninsula, and add another evacuation route directly to the new Highway 67 and Highway 15.
The latest study does not mean Biloxi will actually build a new bridge at Popps Ferry. Creel says that since the hurricane, the time and cost estimates initially envisioned have risen too high for the city to build without federal and state assistance. Creel also said that a four lane bridge may also not be what is actually needed.
"The congestion is really the result of having to raise the drawbridge for boat traffic," Creel said.
Mississippi Power uses barges to transport coal to its plant in Gulfport. Its tug and barges travel through the narrow Popps Ferry bridge as often as four times a day, often during busy traffic times, which backs up vehicles from Popps Ferry road to Keesler. By raising the drawspan at the existing bridge high enough for the barges to pass could significantly cut congestion.
In addition, putting four lanes of bridge would create problems in the Sunkist housing area where the road is only three lanes. That road, through one of Biloxi's most established residential neighborhoods, was only renovated and opened, at great city expense, just prior to Katrina.
During the post-Katrina charrettes, urban transportation planners recommended that Biloxi's future transportation needs would be better served by building more bridges, rather that bigger bridges, but efforts to get a new bridge across the bay has been stymied by public officials and some business groups, and the lack of leadership has been used by the Mississippi Department of Transportation as an excuse in not building a new bridge.
Over the past twenty years, the city has commissioned numerous studies for a new Biloxi Back Bay bridge west of Keesler A.F.B. In study after study, the best location was found to be a bridge from Rodenberg Avenue to the area of Cedar Lake road.
This latest $2 million study follows money that was allocated for the Popps Ferry project back in 2005 when President Bush authorized a huge $286.4 billion transportation bill. In a July, 12, 2005 WLOX report, Holloway said Congress had okayed $7 million to cover an environmental impact and design study.
In a Sun Herald story on Aug. 12, 2005, Holloway said it was his plan to make the Popps Ferry road a main East Harrison County Connector road that would have a new bridge and an extension to U.S. 90. At that time, the city estimated costs for the bridge to be between $35 million and $45 million. The mayor said in 2005 that the project would be a city project, and not an MDOT project and that he had obtained $1.8 million to begin the project.
Going Nowhere: Biloxi's Next Bridge
(First published by GCN in July 2005)