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Private company pitches toll bridge replacement for Popp’s Ferry Bridge

After talks with Mayor FoFo Gilich’s administration, the United Bridge Partners were ready to reveal the progress they have made.
Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 6:58 PM CST
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - A development group working on a replacement for Biloxi’s Popp’s Ferry Bridge unveiled their plan to city leaders Tuesday with a promise.

“When I talk about certainty, I mean 100% certain in terms of delivery of the new bridge by 2026,” United Bridge Partners President/CEO Doug Witt told city council members.

United Bridge Partners revealed sketches of a four lane bridge without a draw, but with a crossing toll somewhere between $1 and $1.30.

The proposal calls for a monthly tag that can be purchased for frequent crossers, discounted prices for families headed to and from school, and no tolls for emergency vehicles and public/school buses. The fees won’t be collected by booth. Instead, drivers can opt for a tag that would electronically charge an account or they will be billed by the mail through license plate reading technology.

The financial costs coming out of residents’ pockets left some council members with questions about how to possibly lower the toll.

“I think (Councilman George Lawrence) brought up something about money being matched with federal funds and possibly FEMA grants, infrastructure deals,” Councilman Felix Gines said to the developers.

Project leaders countered saying privately-funded bridges are built faster, and there’s little guarantee that state and federal groups will help with the costs. With this plan, the private entity would pay for the $170 million project entirely and set up an office in the city to deal with maintenance, questions and complaints.

“In 2019, only about 5-10% of federal grant applications were awarded. So it’s extremely competitive to secure those grants,” United Bridge Partners VP of Business Development Ryan Dolan said. “This is an off system, or a bridge, that is not owned by the state. So often a project like this won’t be prioritized at the state level.”

Both Dolan and Witt harped on speed being key, especially with the rise in inflation and the difficulties in getting materials. Officials said if the council doesn’t vote on a contract soon, the original price of the bridge could skyrocket to over $260 million if the project’s approval is delayed for two years.

As the developers organize the first contract to put before the council to vote on, they stress that the proposed project could help with the old structure’s aging mechanics and evacuation routes for hurricanes.

“The need for the project is to increase capacity of the overall roadway. That will improve traffic congestion, traffic delays,” Dolan said.

Developers said they will also do more studies and gauge the public on what they think of the project, especially the toll. One other assessment is to see if the project needs to buy up 80 homes to make way for the bridge. Developers hope they can purchase less property to lower the costs.

“We prioritize Biloxi and you are a significant priority to us,” Witt said.

United Bridge Partners also proposed to pay the city a $2 million development fee, as well as be a contributing member of the coast through charities and community groups/events.

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