GCN Special Report
The Tale of City Lights
By Keith Burton - GCN 7/14/07
There is no sharper contrast between Biloxi and Gulfport in these post-Katrina days, than to drive down U.S. 90 at night and note that the street lights are on in Biloxi, but not in Gulfport.
Its been nearly 23 months since Katrina slammed into the Coast destroying homes, businesses and the street lights on the beach highway. Biloxi's mayor, A.J. Holloway didn't like the darkness and acted within a few months of the storm to replace many of the lights that brightened the highway at night. Nearly 180 of the 250 or so pre-Katrina street lights on U.S. 90 in Biloxi were restored in December 2005, when the four-lane boulevard was fully re-opened to traffic.
In Gulfport, Mayor Warr has instead sought a different approach. He saw the street lights as a way to make an economic development statement and has sought to find lights that are more decorative.
On May 31, Warr told WLOX that he anticipated initial construction would begin in 60 days. Just this week, Warr told WLOX that he expects bids to go out within six weeks, after he hears from the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
Warr found out that he couldn't just replace the lights and their poles with whatever he wanted. There are federal rules on what type of lights can be used, what type of pole and more.
"The Mayor has been made painfully aware of the regulations," Brown told GCN in an interview July 13.
Warr, who traveled to China in a search for decorative light fixtures, has faced growing criticism by residents who feel the city has been too long in the dark on one of its key roadways. From the beginning of his administration, he said he wanted to reshape the image of Gulfport and has seen the post-Katrina landscape his palette. Decorative light poles are among the features. But street lights on federal and state highways have to meet regulations that govern how poles break when hit by cars, to power requirements and illumination.
Brown told GCN that Warr had tried to go out for bids once earlier on his lights, and then found out later about the regulations and would have to seek state and federal approval. That process has yet to be finished, Brown said.
"It comes (the request) through to MDOT and we sent it to the Federal Highway Administration," Brown said.
As to when when the lights could possibly be under construction, Brown said, "If approval came today, between advertising for bids, getting the lights and arranging for a contractor, it would take about 90 days. If we were doing the work, it would start around October."
"But I don't know when the approval will occur," said Brown.
Meanwhile, in Biloxi, the city has nearly finished relighting all of it's sections of the highway. Just this week, a section that did not have regular street lights prior to the hurricane, was finished.
The section of roadway, which is just under a mile and was once lined by a collection of beachfront homes, had only minimal, ornamental lighting on its northside before Hurricane Katrina. Some refer to this section of U.S. 90 as “the holy land” because it connects with a group of streets named for saints.
“This is the first time that the holy land section of Highway 90 has ever been lit to industry safety standards,” Mayor A.J. Holloway said.
The White-to-St. George lighting – which cost the city more than $400,000 -- included the installation of 43 40-foot fiberglass breakaway poles in the center median, all topped with 400-watt cobra-head fixtures, the same style fixtures used along Beach Boulevard before the storm.
The installation of street lights on another section of Beach Boulevard, the two-mile stretch between Beauvoir Road and Rodenberg Avenue, is expected to be completed within a month. The city is using $569,000 in federal funds for the project, which over the past several weeks has involved the installation of 76 break-away poles.
Biloxi also had decorative lights in sections along the highway, which are also going to be replaced soon.
Biloxi officials say that design work for repairs to storm-damaged lighting on Casino Row – the half-mile between Oak and Myrtle streets – is now underway, with last week’s authorization from MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. The authorization also includes the OK for repairs to lighting on Bayview Avenue, Back Bay Boulevard and under the I-110 in Biloxi.
For Gulfport, the long unresolved street lighting is just one of the issues that Warr said will take time. Work on city buildings damaged by Katrina, the empty Gulfport Harbor and the dirt-covered Jones Park are also notable for very little progress. Those are also projects on Warr's palette that are due for his vision of improvements.
As for Wayne Brown, he also has been slow to get lights restored that were damaged by Katrina. Most of the lights, which are MDOT's responsibility, along the I-110 that leads into Biloxi are still not working. He says a contractor is making progress on fixing the lights along this key roadway. In recent weeks, some of the lights on the I-110 bridge have been relit, but he says the contractor has found numerous problems with the wiring that have to be resolved. MDOT is also responsible for a section of lights at the intersection of I-110 and U.S. 90 that are not operating.