December 02, 2005

Building a new Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge

A lot of discussion and debate from all over has gone into the proposal to replace US 90's bridge over Biloxi Bay (locally known as the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Many are at odds with MDOT because the feel MDOT is forcing their plan for the bridge down on them...especially those in Ocean Springs. Complaints up the wazoo have been made against MDOT for the way they're handling the situation. The SunHerald seems to have an article, letter, or sound byte every day about the bridge. From my unscientific poll, it seems comments in the SunHerald are 40/60 for/against MDOT's bridge plan.

Here's MDOT's plan: their plan is for a 93-ft high-rise bridge (high enough to eliminate the need for a draw span) at the same location as the bridge destroyed by Katrina. The bridge would be 6 lanes wide plus full shoulders and a bike/ped path...the cited width of the bridge is 120-ft.

The New Urbanists and Renewal Forumers, not surprisingly, are solidly against MDOT's plan. They feel A) that the bridge should be built along the CSX RR corridor, to tie into their vision of a relocated US 90 along the CSX corridor through Biloxi and Gulfport, and B) that the bridge should be no more than 4 lanes wide.

MDOT originally wanted the bridge contact let by the end of November. That's been put on hold due to a holdup in federal relief/recovery dollars...MDOT claims they've already spent $100 million on hurricane recovery, and until yesterday had only received $5 million in reimbursement from the Feds. Yesterday they got $20 million more, but that still leaves a $75 million backlog...significant when one considers a new Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge will easily top $200 million, regardless of the design/location chosen.

My take on the bridge: I've borrowed elements from both sides in crafting my proposal. First up: MDOT should build a 2-lane "temporary" span at the existing location to get US 90 traffic at least moving and avoid an up-to-10-mile detour via I-10. The New Urbanists feel that this is the right way to go until a permanent bridge can be agreed upon and built, and I tend to agree.

My "permanent" solution, which is hingent on the CSX tracks being relocated north of I-10 as many propose, is to build a signature span generally at the location of the CSX RR crossing of Biloxi Bay. This span should be aesthetic in design, a high-bridge to eliminate need for a drawbridge span, and have 6 traffic lanes. The New Urbanists disagree, but I feel existing traffic is borderline enough to justify 6 lanes, and future traffic volumes will certainly warrant a wider span. Rather than full shoulders on both sides of each roadway, I would carry a 2-ft left shoulder and a 10-ft right shoulder on each side. My signature span would also carry a dual-track LRT line across the Bay. Although my span is wider than MDOT's proposal (132-ft vs 120-ft), my span carries both vehicle lanes and rail transit.

With a "permanent" span, the 2-lane "temporary" span could then be converted into a bicycle/pedestrian crossing, providing non-vehicular traffic a means to get across Biloxi Bay.

This and my other ideas for my transportation vision for the Gulf Coast can be found on my website here: