GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - A grant to the Port of Gulfport means big changes could be headed to the largest city on the coast.
The Mississippi State Port Authority is getting $15.76 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve highway access to the port.
The infrastructure improvements include work on 1.2 miles of 30th Avenue, as well as a grade-separated bridge over Highway 90.
Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith joined with Congressman Steven Palazzo to announce the award Tuesday.
This project will make a big impact on not only the port, but also the city, with road work spanning from the intersection of 30th Avenue and 22nd Street, all the way down to the port.
Goals include widening and reinforcing the road, but the most visual change will take place over Highway 90.
There, a bridge will be created to allow trucks to avoid one of the busiest roads in South Mississippi. The port's CEO Jonathan Daniels is excited about the project and stressed how helpful it will be to the port and the city.
"You have 100,000 full containers that are moving into and out of the port on annual basis," said Daniels. "You know, to be able to handle that you have to be able to trip in and trip out. You have got more than 200,000 tractor trailer movements through the heart of downtown Gulfport and I think that has to be looked at in a safety position."
Keeping trucks off Highway 49 and Highway 90 will save the port money and make Gulfport much safer.
"It will come up somewhere on 30th (Avenue) in a center lane configuration and then come south of Highway 90 and dip down on the port," explained Daniels. "One-way access in, one-way access out. It allows us the opportunity to maintain traffic flow, not have to put trucks in an idling situation turning right or left, keeping them off Highway 90 and, ultimately, keeping them off Highway 49."
Cutting back on vehicle idling time drastically will save an estimated $8.1 million in vehicle operating costs, said Daniels.
The total project cost is expected to be $19.7 million, with a local match of $3.94 million provided by the Mississippi State Port Authority. The DOT grant is being awarded to the Mississippi State Port Authority as part of the Port Infrastructure Development Program.
"The State of Mississippi has invested so much in rebuilding the Port of Gulfport into a port of the future. This infusion of federal funding will help ensure port access to serve not only commerce, but the public," Hyde-Smith said. "I appreciate Secretary Chao's attention to the ongoing infrastructure needs on the Mississippi Gulf Coast."
"Our ports are an integral component of our nation's economic success," said Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. "As the administration continues to invest in America's infrastructure, this program will further modernize and improve the efficiency of our waterways."
"The Port of Gulfport plays a vital role in South Mississippi's economy, and I know this grant will foster in a full-scale modernization effort to improve daily operations and increase commercial growth through necessary infrastructure improvements. I am proud to support the work taking place at the Port of Gulfport, and I appreciate the president's support for South Mississippi's economic prosperity," Palazzo said.
At this time, a start date has not yet been determined.
The Port of Gulfport is a top 25 U.S. container port and the second-largest importer of green fruit in the nation. It has been designated by the U.S. Department of Defense as one of 17 Strategic Seaports given its significance to military operations, and recently completed a $570 million restoration and expansion project.