Wilkes Bridge Blues: latest shutdown slows down local businesses

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - More than 32,000 cars a day use the Wilkes Bridge on Cowan-Lorraine Road in Gulfport.

Imagine what happens every time the draw gets stuck. Local business owners and employees say they hold their breath every time the bridge goes up, hoping it will go back down again and not interrupt their businesses.

On Sunday afternoon when the the draw got stuck, it took Mississippi Department of Transportation officials nearly 18 hours to get it back in service.

Once the bridge re-opened, business started booming again at Pure Country Gas Station on Cowan-Lorraine. It was a different, and much slower story Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. "Basically, our business rush that we usually have was non-existent this morning," said Elizabeth Pratt, who manages the Pure Country Gas Station. "Plus, we have non-ethanol gas, so the boat traffic is early morning traffic that was also non-existent today."

On the south side of the bridge at Run-N-Tri, Dean Morrow says no one was running to his store either during the 18 or so hours that the bridge was out. "Even when people think it's down, they don't know when it re-opens, so they just don't bother to come shop anyway," Morrow said.

The Wilkes Bridge, which opened 20 years ago, did re-open around 11:00 a.m. Monday morning.

MDOT Spokesperson Kelly Castleberry said a hydraulic fitting malfunctioned, causing the bridge to stay open Sunday afternoon.

He also said the part needed to fix the bridge had to be built and brought in before repairs could be made. Castleberry also added that the hope is an overhaul of the bridge will be done in the future as a permanent solution.

While the Wilkes Bridge is open for now, business owners say it's only a matter of time before another incident shuts down the bridge and their businesses again.

"We get 30,000 or so cars coming down this highway corridor every day, and that directly affects our business," Morrow added.

Copyright 2018 WLOX. All rights reserved.