Citizens Groups Pushes For Temporary Bridge

A new grass roots citizens group has a question for M-DOT.

Why not build a temporary bridge across Biloxi Bay and then settle the ongoing four lane versus six lane bridge debate?

The group points to Florida and Louisiana as examples where temporary spans have proven successful following a hurricane.

The concerned citizens group called "Bridge Now" has a web site and is considering a petition drive. Organizers say while the debate over how many bridge lanes to build is important, there's an immediate concern that may be more critical.

"Really, all we have right now is this proposal or nothing," said Cynthia Ramseur, as she looked across the battered Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge.

Ramseur and Jeff Bounds say M-DOT's plan to build a new six lane structure is too much bridge and too long to wait. They suggest building a temporary bridge on existing pilings.

"We think we've not really been looking at that alternative. And that's what we'd like to see. It's very important for community recovery and economic recovery," says Ramseur.

"Businesses and casinos in Biloxi to be able to get operational and get tourists in here as quickly as possible. And that means we need a bridge. And we don't need a bridge in 18 months. We need it now," added group member, Jeff Bounds.

The group's web site calls the planned six lane bridge a "pork barrel monster". As for a temporary bridge, they point to neighboring Louisiana which opened two lanes of the twin spans over Lake Pontchartrain in just two months.

"The key is to use the existing pilings. The pilings are in place. The bridge was designed so that the decking sections in excessive storm surge would lift off, which is exactly what happened. You can take a picture over here and see," said Bounds.

Southern district transportation commissioner Wayne Brown defends the plan for a six lane replacement bridge, saying M-DOT must plan ahead to handle the projected traffic increase 25 years from now. As for the idea of building a temporary bridge to handle short term needs, Brown says that idea was considered.

Brown says one drawback is that many of the bridge supports sustained significant damage.

"The other overriding reason was the lift spans. All the motors and the workings, control boards and so forth got salt water intrusion. It would have been a long, difficult, expensive project," said Brown.

The commissioner says the planned six lane bridge remains the best alternative. M-DOT will award a bid for the project next month. Brown says construction will then take 15 to 18 months.