BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Popp's Ferry Bridge could be repaired and ready to re-open by early next month.
An advertisement for bids will go out in the next few days and a contract for the repair work will likely be awarded in the next two weeks.
It was March 20th when a barge struck the Popp's Ferry Bridge, knocking down a sizeable portion of the southern span. Salvage work began at the site shortly after the accident and a partnership between the City of Biloxi and the Mississippi Department of Transportation put repair plans on a "fast track."
The damaged barge has already been removed, but more accident clean-up work remains for the salvage crew at the Popp's Ferry Bridge.
Crane operators maneuver a giant steel claw, something that looks a bit like one of those carnival games where the player tries to pick up a prize. But in this case, the only prize is underwater debris, leftovers from the accident a dozen days ago.
"Road decks and girder beams and the bridge tender's truck somewhere in that location right there," said city public works employee Stephen Laiche, who was watching the salvage operation.
Removing those remnants from the murky water requires special skills, the right heavy equipment and a little patience.
"Using a grapple off that crane and picking it up. Then using a punch to break it up as they use the grapple to clean it up," Laiche explained.
An array of cranes helps with the debris search and heavy lifting. Once this salvage operation wraps up, repair work will get underway in the very near future.
"I'm very happy with the way things are going. I think we can look forward to this bridge being opened in early May is what they're predicting right now," said Biloxi mayor A.J. Holloway.
The mayor credits a good working relationship between Biloxi and MDOT for helping "fast track" the planned repair work.
On the day of the accident, Mayor Holloway predicted a possible nightmare of traffic following the bridge closing. Thankfully, that's not happened. In fact, police report relatively few problems since the bridge has been out of service. Apparently, most drivers have heeded the warning to leave early and give themselves plenty of extra time.
Once work on the bridge begins, the contractor will have a financial stake in finishing the job quickly.
"They do have a $75,000 a day incentive clause for early completion. That is something that will work," said the mayor.
The mayor has good reason to think that "financial incentive" for the contractor will expedite the repair work. You'll recall that rewards for beating the deadline helped hasten the building of the new Biloxi-Ocean Springs span and the Bay St. Louis bridge, as well as post-Katrina repairs on the Popp's Ferry Bridge.