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MDOT Has No Credibility Over When Coast Bridges Will Be Ready
by Keith Burton         Filed 2/19/06   Updated 3/2/06

It seems that Southern District Highway Commissioner Wayne Brown is feeling the heat from widespread criticism of his agency and his personal performance. Critical articles have appeared in newspapers statewide, in addition to those on GCN. But the commissioner and the Mississippi Department of Transportation still do not seem to be hearing the message. Just recently, Brown stepped into it again in a letter he sent to the Clarion Ledger that only reinforces the arrogance of an agency that is out of touch.

Brown penned a letter that he sent to the Clarion Ledger in response  regarding MDOT's planned Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge. In the letter published Feb. 17, Brown took umbrage that MDOT's plan for a ten lane bridge was not supported.

"In addition, I take issue with the title of the news article that appeared on Jan. 26 ("MDOT finding little support for U.S. 90 bridge plan").

I'd like to shed a little light on that as well.

The facts on the Bay St. Louis and Biloxi Bay bridges are: The cities of Bay St. Louis, Biloxi and Ocean Springs along with Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties all voted in favor of the MDOT bridge plan. The City of Ocean Springs voted to rescind its approval on a 3-3 tie vote with the mayor voting to rescind. City council members then voted 5-1 to nullify the rescinded resolution and support the bridge plan.

No other governmental agency has expressed an objection, except for the Harrison County Development Commission. The commission members requested that a draw bridge be installed in lieu of a high-rise due to possible future economic development needs. The phone calls and letters that I have received to date are running 10-1 in favor of the bridges as proposed. In three 30-minute call-in talk shows on WLOX, there were two calls against the bridges and dozens in favor. Any large transportation project will have those for and against any proposal. In the case of the two bay bridges, the support is overwhelming in favor of MDOT plans."

Note that in all of his supporting comments, he does not cite any study or transportation evaluation MDOT has done to support his bridge. He also fails to note that not just the Harrison County Development Commission opposes his plan, but the Mississippi Development Authority, the governor, who is on record for a bridge with a draw span, and Northrop Grumman, which says a bridge without a drawspan would inhibit their company and interfere with the growth of Coast's shipbuilding industry in the Harrison County Industrial Park.

But his most ridiculous comments were citing the three 30-minute WLOX news shows. Only the most die-hard news fans watch that show on late Sunday nights. And with WLOX's continuous biased support for Brown, it is easy to stack the phone system with supporters.

And here's a note for readers that are unfamiliar with the folksy but crafty Wayne Brown; anytime he directly mentions "shedding light" on an issue, that is not what he is doing.

In fact, Brown is very loose with the facts he cites. Most of the public bodies that have voted support were provided with inaccurate and incomplete information from Brown. And as an example of fact twisting by Brown, Harrison County has not formally voted on supporting MDOT's bridge plan.

But regardless of Brown's assessment that they know what to build, the facts are that no work has gotten underway and the whole process has become mired in a  Coast Guard and Federal Highway Administration review. Whether the bridge MDOT wants is justified or not, their management of this whole affair has been a failure. And since so few of the MDOT handpicked contracting companies actually bid on the projects to repair the Biloxi, and Bay St. Louis bridges, there is considerable doubt that Mississippi is actually getting a fair price.

The reality is this, even if MDOT was to move forward soon on the bridges, they have no credibility on when the bridges would be completed. Their "design-build" process, touted as a way to expedite the rebuilding, has not even provided anyone with drawings of what MDOT's bridges will look like. It is tantamount to building a house before you know where the first stud will go and giving the contractor an open-ended contract to charge you as he figures it out.

If that isn't a plan for more delays, MDOT will surely find some more.

Update: 3/2/06

As expected by GCN, the change to build the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge at 95 feet instead of 85 feet has MDOT rejecting the current bid on the project and re-advertising the project. This will add at least another three month before construction can begin on the badly needed bridge destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The Mississippi Transportation Commission decided in a meeting Wednesday that the project had to be re-advertised as requested by the Federal Highway Administration. This could result in a delay of approximately 90 days.

The Coast Guard had approved the bridge height in February at 85 feet but after concerns by area shipbuilding interests, the bridge needed a draw bridge or be raised, the height needed was determined to be at least 95 feet, which would mean a significant change in the bridge design.

More Information:

MDOT bay bridge plans supported - Wayne Brown

MDOT- Who Will Change It? - GCN Guest Editorial - Royce Hignight

In 70 Years MDOT has Changed Nothing But its Name - Bill Minor - Sun Herald


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