Port Of Gulfport 10 Year Plan Could Include Relocated Highway 90

There's a plan under consideration that actually shifts a section of Highway 90 in downtown Gulfport a bit to the north. The relocation concept was introduced Monday when the Port of Gulfport shared its vision for the future.

As the 10 year vision maps were being explained, a Dole ship was docked along the port's east pier, unloading containers.  Dole is back to its pre-Katrina cargo levels. It's a sign to leaders at the Port of Gulfport that despite their hurricane damage, their port is still a significant player in the industry.

"Our hope is to be one of the major load centers in the U.S. Gulf," port director Don Allee said, "to be in a position to serve both maritime and non-maritime activity."

Port leaders held a meeting with people who use their facility to explain the post Katrina tweaks they'd like to make to their 2003 master plan. Most of the talk was about the improvements being made to west pier that should increase cargo ship business. By 2015, a 150 acre expansion to the west and a new ship channel next to the expansion could boost productivity at the port.

Dick Woodman is an engineer with the JWG Group, a consulting firm hired to create a post-Katrina master plan for the port.

"Instead of trying to maintain berths on both sides with major expansions, we focused on the west pier," Woodman explained. "One of the reasons is we can bring the traffic directly into west pier."

The neighborhood closest to west pier is where David Andre lives. After listening to what the port could look like 10 years from now, Andre seemed somewhat uncomfortable with a few of the changes.

"The town of Gulfport surrounding the port is a fragile entity right now," Andre told the crowd. "And we're concerned living in west Gulfport that we don't want to be anymore separated from our downtown more than we would need to be."

One of Andre's questions was about a dotted line on the 10 year vision map. That line is where the consultants think the downtown Gulfport section of Highway 90 should be rebuilt.

"It is my opinion as a planner that it would enhance the city's operation relative to the port," Woodman explained.

Another potential enhancement was a yellow shaded section on the map. That's the north harbor area -- an area close to Highway 90 that could be developed into hotels, condos, shops and casinos.

"Putting them into a nice configuration where they can match the community is an important aspect of the plan," Woodman said.

The port is only pitching these ideas. So far, none of its post Katrina concepts have been adopted.

The Port of Gulfport is working closely with the Mississippi Development Authority to bring its master plan to life. Deputy Director Whit Hughes was at the Monday meeting.

"It's a unique opportunity," Hughes said, referring to the rebuilding opportunities at the port. "The right thing and the smart thing to do, especially when you're talking about spending a significant amount of money, $500 million or more, is to take whatever time is necessary to plan in a way that will allow you to get it right the first time."

If everything in the 10 year plan is approved, rebuilding the port will cost more than $540 million.