Biloxi Needs A New Bridge Not a Wider Popps Ferry Bridge
by Keith Burton - GCN 2/17/08
Plans are underway by the city of Biloxi to expand the Popps Ferry Bridge and road through the Sunkist neighborhood. Most Biloxi residents know that the city is growing and a need for a more efficient transportation network is badly needed.
The current plan to expand Popps Ferry Bridge to four lanes with a bigger bridge is not the best solution. Such a project would result in destroying the Sunkist subdivision, one of Biloxi's largest, with a wider road that would likely see the properties along Popps Ferry road commercialized, reducing the home values of homes along the surrounding roads. The current Popps Ferry expansion proposal is ludicrous when all of its "merits" are considered.
Also, using Popps Ferry as a main corridor road, where there are several school zones that restrict speed, means that traffic delays would always be a problem.
What Biloxi needs is another bridge, not a bigger bridge. This additional bridge should be located at Rodenberg Avenue, just west of Keesler and in the middle of the Biloxi peninsula.
Studies by the city's planning commission during the mid 1990's, and in additional studies going back nearly 30 years, have repeatedly shown that a new bridge at Rodenberg is the best solution to Biloxi's traffic problems. In fact, the city did adopt a recommendation in their 2020 plan to build a bridge at the north end of Rodenberg.
The problem for a bridge at that location has always been Keesler Air Force Base, which feared it would lose a portion of his housing area along the waterfront at Bay Ridge. But today, the housing area is an empty field. Hurricane Katrina severely damaged many of the homes in Keeler's Bay Ridge housing area and Keesler is replacing them. The entire neighborhood has been leveled in preparation for the new construction.
(Photo Right: Cleared Keesler A.F.B. housing area. The road toward the top of the cleared area is Rodenberg Avenue. Photo by City of Biloxi, Feb. 8, 2008)
But this is also a time to consider building a bridge at Rodenberg. Work on the homes at Keesler at that location should stop until a plan for a new bridge is considered. Keesler's additional objections in the past were over the potential for high-rise developments south of their runway, but the city has established new regulations on height that mitigate those concerns.
A bridge at Rodenberg would connect the Biloxi peninsula nearly perfectly with Cedar Lake Road and areas around the new Biloxi High School. This would also allow for much better access to the neighborhoods and developments in Biloxi's north bay areas. A new bridge would also provide much better access to the residential areas where many of Keesler's personnel live. Currently, it is approximately 10 miles between the Popps Ferry Bridge and the I-110 bridge. As area motorists know, it takes nearly an hour to detour if one of those two bridges are blocked. A third bridge is needed..
Currently, the I-110 bridge is nearing capacity for carrying traffic, especially during rush hours in the morning and afternoon, this is likely to continue even when the new Biloxi Bay Bridge to Ocean Springs is completed.
After the hurricane, urban transportation experts with Governor Haley Barbour's charrette program recommended more bridges for Biloxi than bigger bridges. While the Mississippi Department of Transportation decided a bigger bridge to replace the U.S. 90 bridge was what was needed, that bridge does not provide a solution for the heavy internal traffic for Biloxi.
A bigger bridge at Popps Ferry also will not provide a solution and building such bridge will degrade one of Biloxi's most important neighborhoods.
A new bridge at Rodenberg would be suitable to service the over $1 billion in development that is to occur along Veteran's Avenue and U.S. 90 planned by RW Development. A bridge at Rodenberg would also support the expected development along what was once called the Biloxi Strip on the beach.
Popps Ferry is already too congested and surrounded by residential neighborhoods that would be detrimentally affected by an expanded Popps Ferry Bridge. Businesses in the area would also not benefit. If the Popps Ferry bridge is expanded, the increased traffic density would actually be a problem for businesses, turning the area into what people already experience along U.S. 49 in Gulfport's Orange Grove area.
Putting a bridge on Rodenberg would result in improving the commercial viability of Pass Road west of Keesler and provide Keesler with much quicker access across the bay. It would also reduce the transport time of moving children from the Biloxi peninsula to the new High School.
There are also plans underway for a hospital to be built north of Back Bay. There are already indications that Biloxi's remaining hospital may be closed in the future after the new north bay hospital has been built. Even if Biloxi Regional Hospital in Downtown Biloxi in not closed in the future, access to the new hospital with a new bridge at Rodenberg will be beneficial to the city, especially for the planned high density condo and casino developments that are expected to be built on the peninsula.
Even with the plans on the Popps Ferry Bridge underway, it will be at least four to ten years before that work will be accomplished. But now, a new Bridge at Rodenberg can be accomplished much faster, especially since the housing area that once stood in the way is currently no more.
But if Keesler re-establishes its bay front Bay Ridge neighborhood, the window of opportunity for a new bridge at Rodenberg will cease to exist once again, and likely forever doom Biloxi from having the road and bridge infrastructure it needs to grow for the future.
Now is the time for Biloxi and Keesler officials to step up to the plate for the benefit of Biloxi's future.
Note: The author of this opinion served on the Biloxi Planning Commission four four years during the mid-1990's and voted with others on the commission to recommend that the city build a bridge at Rodenberg Ave.