MDOT calls stuck drawbridge a good drill for hurricane season

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - MDOT officials are calling the 11 hour shutdown of the Wilkes Bridge in Gulfport a good hurricane drill. After a mechanical failure on Wednesday, crews were forced to lower the drawbridge manually, something MDOT officials said they hadn't done in at least 15 years.

When a major hurricane is heading this way, Cowan Road is one of the main routes Coast residents will use to get out of the storm's path, but that evacuation plan depends on drivers being able to cross the Wilkes Bridge.

"Us living on an island and working on an island, any time there is a bridge problem, it causes problems for everybody. We always worry about any of the drawbridges. We've had problems with drawbridges before during hurricanes, and that's always a concern of ours," said Harrison County Emergency Management Director Rupert Lacy.

MDOT officials said for the second time in eight months, one of the components on the Wilkes Bridge's brake system failed, leaving the span stuck in the up position. After realizing it wouldn't be a quick fix, crews decided to lower the bridge the old fashioned way.

MDOT's Gabe Faggard told WLOX News it as a good drill for MDOT crews.

"Not being able to fix the bridge and having to do it manually refreshed our minds on exactly how to do that. In my 15 years at MDOT, we have never lowered a bridge manually. It took 12 people to do," said Faggard. "Every brake had to have a person to manually release it, and it had to be synchronized. Spotters were also needed to guide the span then radio what to do to each individual operating a brake."

MDOT officials said they will always try to fix a problem with a span first, but should that not work and the Coast is under an evacuation, they know they have a backup plan that works and that crews are familiar with.

MDOT officials said the part of the brake system that failed on Wednesday is a different component than what caused the problem eight months ago. Biloxi's Public Works Department sent two of its bridge employees to the Wilkes Bridge to assist with lowering it manually.

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