BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - A major urban planning project on the Gulf Coast had been revived in recent years, only to get tabled again due to COVID-19.
A proposed East-West Connector road through Gulfport and Biloxi has generated a lot of interest on the Coast. The idea of the East-West corridor was conceived in 2005, but was tabled after Hurricane Katrina.
It was revived in 2016 and was studied at a conceptual level. That was until the pandemic hit in March, and it was put back on hold again.
The basic idea was to connect Gulfport and Biloxi with a 12.6 mile east-west roadway between Pass Road and Highway 90 to lessen congestion.
The latest studies on the road would use it to encourage new economic development in clusters along the road. That was different from the original concept, that included the idea of light rails along the CSX tracks.
The path of the roadway was divided into six two-mile sections, each with what they call a Transit Oriented Development. These would be a cluster of mixed combinations of dense residential and commercial development.
“Each one of those was chosen on a number of factors and available land and space was one of those,” said Gulf Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Paul Gavin. “But a lot of what was chosen was where people would live where you could put additional housing units and additional shops.”
The roadway would run on the north side of the CSX railroad tracks from U.S. 49 in Gulfport to the area around Veterans Avenue in Biloxi. The road would then cross over and complete the path to downtown Biloxi on the south side of the tracks.
The two-mile segments could be developed independently and were rated for feasibility. The top two sections of roadway were from DeBuys Road to Popp’s Ferry in Biloxi. And also, Popp’s Ferry to Veterans Avenue. Third on the list was Cowan Road in Gulfport to DeBuys.
But, it’s not a case of ‘build it and they will come' because the timing has to be perfect.
“Putting in a new road doesn’t necessarily lead to development,” Gavin said. “And it’s not something you want to do after the fact after a development is built, so it has to be timed right.”
That timing means coordination between public and private sectors.
“What’s key in the next phase is the private development and having a private sector champion in that area of the Coast is going to be the key to making this project work.” said Gavin.
The recent announcement of a casino project in one of the locations the GRPC planners had identified, may help spur the road’s concept along. However, the connector road may not fit into the UMUSIC hotel venture plans on the former Broadwater property.
Gavin also said that the coronavirus may change people’s behaviors enough to change some of the assumptions of the study.
“If you have to go back and revisit those assumptions that COVID changed," Gavin said. "Like the millennials changing where they want to live and work and their preferences for living and eating and shopping in high density places, it might take a little bit longer to make sure we have it right.”
The long-term effect of the pandemic has left this and many other plans in the air.
“The effects to budgets and personal behavior," said Gavin. "That’s really the unknown.”