January 14, 2006

6-lanes for Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge

The handwriting is on the wall, so to speak. After hearing concerns from Ocean Springs Mayor Moran (who is against a 6-lane replacement for the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge) and reviewing traffic studies for the bridge done by both MDOT and the city, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has endorsed MDOT's proposal for a 6-lane span. Short of a lawsuit, which would only delay the bridge that much further (something NEITHER side wants), MDOT's bridge proposal will proceed.

Somewhat unrelated, but possibly affecting the bridge proposal even further, is a letter sent by Harrison County Development Commission Executive Director Leland Speed to MDOT requesting a drawspan anyway, in order to promote additional industry along the county's Industrial Seaway. The driving force behind the letter is Trinity Yachts, who moved onto land along the seaway after Katrina and is a builder of large yachts. One yacht proposal they are bidding on would require a vertical clearance of up to 120 feet, significantly higher than the 85-foot clearance that MDOT's bridge proposal allows. The concern is that building a fixed-span either that low or without a drawspan will hamper industrial recruitment efforts, not to mention Trinity Yachts' hopes of winning the "mega-yacht" contract.

My thoughts: though I don't like the additional mainenance/operational costs of keeping a drawbridge at Biloxi-Ocean Springs (and neither does MDOT), there may be significant merit in keeping a drawbridge there, in that industrial development along the Seaway would help to diversify the Coast's economy plus give it a springboard to bounce back from the hurricane's destruction. Using the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge along the D.C. Beltway as an example, a well-designed drawbridge will reduce the number of drawbridge openings required, yet still have the flexibility that industry along the Seaway requires. My suggestion would be for a drawbridge with a 65 to 70 foot clearance, with drawspan openings by appointment and prohibited (except for emergencies) during peak traffic hours.

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