Biloxi And Ocean Springs To Be Connected Again In November

We're just 77 days away from a key recovery milestone. On November first, traffic will once again roll over the Biloxi Bay. Thursday morning, contractors gave the media a status report and a tour of the $342 million Biloxi Ocean Springs Bridge project.

The numbers connected to the new Biloxi Ocean Springs Bridge are impressive. Four hundred fifty workers are busy building the 71 spans that make up the bridge. Each one of those spans has 11 beams. Which means 782 beams are being used. They're all sitting on 1,219 cement pilings in the water. But the most significant number on the bridge reconstruction project is one -- as in November 1, the bridge's targeted reopening date.

Kelly Castleberry is MDOT's project engineer.

"Right now, we feel pretty comfortable that we can make the date," he said while giving the media a tour of the bridge.

Cement trucks still can't drive from Biloxi all the way to Ocean Springs. But they're a lot closer to the bridge's 95 foot peak than at any time since Katrina dismantled the original bridge. Kent Dussom is with URS, the consultant hired to oversee the project.

"The contractor has hit every one of his interim milestone dates. And he's on schedule right now," Dussom said. "So, we feel very good about the November 1 opening."

A special Texas style guard rail was one of the early concessions made by MDOT before construction started. Ocean Springs requested the see through rails so drivers could view the horizon.

Before any cars ride on the bridge, demolition teams must blast apart the remnants of the old drawbridge. The explosives detonate in September. Dussom says two lane bridge traffic should send a similar jolt through Biloxi and Ocean Springs on November 1.

"It is very amazing. And that's part of what the design build process was designed to do, to get traffic open as soon as possible," the consultant said. "We understand the economic impact of this bridge to this area. And we want to see this bridge open as soon as possible."

Ultimately the Biloxi Ocean Springs Bridge will have six lanes of traffic, and a pedestrian walkway. The plan right now is to have the entire bridge open by April 17, 2008.

Wednesday, MDOT sat down with leaders from Biloxi and Ocean Springs to go over celebration plans for the November first milestone. An MDOT representative said specific plans for the reopening party were still being ironed out.

Transportation officials initially said the new bridge would cost $338 million. But engineers said design changes and a few extra amenities pushed that tally to $342 million.