Ricky Fitzgerald used a pair of binoculars to spot a coal barge in Biloxi's Back Bay. Fitzgerald is the head bridge tender on the Biloxi Ocean Springs bridge. "During the shrimp season, we let 50-60 boat in and out of here everyday," Fitzgerald said. "And it (bridge) opens 35-40 times a day."
All that wear and tear on a drawbridge built in the 1950s and first opened in 1962 has made raising and lowering it today an iffy proposition. That's why Fitzgerald spread the word -- Back Bay shrimp boats had to stay in port this week. "I called everybody I could think of," he said.
The state sent work crews under the bridge this week to repair or replace some of its aging equipment. "This is 50s technology here," said Fitzgerald as he described the mechanics involved in raising and lowering the bridge. He compared the aging drawbridge to the bridge tender's front door. "If you open and close that door for 40 years without replacing something," he said, "something has got to be worn out."
MDOT crews have been under Highway 90 before, replacing the drawbridge motors. But this is the first time the gears have been changed. Crews are working 10 hours a day this week, so the bridge can reopen by Monday.
While they work on the $40,000 repair project, Fitzgerald sits in the bridge tender's office. He said he watches TV. He gazes out the windows at the birds. And he answers "a lot of telephone calls about when is it going to be open again."
The answer is next week. And Fitzgerald can't wait. He looks forward to seeing vessels a lot bigger than a fishing boat sail through the Biloxi Ocean Springs bridge and out to sea.