In another month, cars will be able to drive over the newly designed bay bridge. Thursday, the media got a status report on the $268 million bridge replacement project. The first two lanes of the rebuilt Highway 90 bridge open May 16th.
Contractors have plenty of concrete left to pour if they're going to hit their first milestone. They've already used thousands of cubic yards of cement to form the barrier rails, and the new roadway over St. Louis Bay. Once it hardens, two lanes of the redesigned Highway 90 bridge will be ready for traffic.
Allan Nelson is the project manager. He represents Granite Archer Western, the contractor hired after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild what the storm destroyed.
"Basically what you see here has been done since the first of July," Nelson said as he stood near the top of the bridge.
At its peak, the bay bridge is 85 feet above the water. That's significantly higher than the roadway that was torn apart by the hurricane.
Typically, a bridge project like this takes four years to complete. However, Mississippi told contractor Granite Archer Western it wanted the bridge designed, poured and open in less than two years.
"I've been in the business for 40 years," Nelson said. "And the pace with which this project has been built is unprecedented."
The pilings for the new bridge are all in the water. But just 64 percent of the cement deck has been poured. And MDOT wants two lanes open by May 16th. Chuck Starita is an MDOT engineer who spends virtually every day at the construction site.
"It's going to be a great achievement. It's going to connect the coast back together," he said.
The significance of what's being done on the bridge is very much on the minds of the 300 men and women building this connector between Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis. They know a direct link between the two cities is a critical part of south Mississippi's post Katrina recovery.
"I think it's a significant, giant step toward the rebuilding of the coast," Nelson said.
Before the storm, 20,000 cars a day used Highway 90 to go from Harrison to Hancock County. Nobody at MDOT knows how many cars will be on the new bridge once the construction equipment is gone.
Ken Tine is definitely looking forward to next month, when he can get out of the ferry boat lane, and back on the bridge.
"I'm waiting real hard for it," he said, just before the ferry pulled into its Henderson Point dock.
He's been using it twice a day while he's been rebuilding, to cut down on the long drive between his temporary home on one side of the bay, and the home he's rebuilding on the other side.
"Save us a lot of time. Only live three minutes across the bridge," he said.
Getting Tine's truck and other traffic onto the bridge is milestone number one for MDOT. Again, that's supposed to happen on May 16th. MDOT's ultimate goal is to get the entire bay bridge open by November 30th.
On the other end of Harrison County, the back bay bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs is still being built. MDOT says the first two lanes of that roadway should open at the end of the year.