Bridging The Gulf, Round 2

Following the mid-May opening of two lanes of the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged U.S. Highway 90 Bay St. Louis Bridge, another Mississippi bridge is scheduled

Following the mid-May opening of two lanes of the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged U.S. Highway 90 Bay St. Louis Bridge, another Mississippi bridge is scheduled to open lanes to traffic for the first time in more than two years. The 1.2-mile, $342 million U.S. 90 Biloxi Bay Bridge is scheduled to open one lane in each direction on its north side beginning November 1, two weeks ahead of the already aggressive schedule. This important event will finally re-establish the link the cities of Biloxi and Ocean Springs have with Harrison and Jackson counties.

For finishing Phase 1 by the original November 13 deadline, lead contractor GC Constructors Û a joint venture of Massman Construction Co. of Kansas City, Kiewit Southern Co. of Ft. Worth, Texas, and Traylor Brothers, Inc., of Evansville, Ind. Û will receive a $5 million bonus from the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT). All six lanes are scheduled to be open by April 16, 2008. If GC Constructors misses that date, it will be fined for every day beyond the Phase 2 deadline.

The design-build project is being erected as a high-rise bridge with 95 ft. of high-tide vertical clearance at the primary navigable waterway and 28 ft. for the rest of the structure. Typical span length will be 125 ft. with a 250-ft. span at the center of the structure (the original bridge’s navigational channel was 150 ft., with 50-ft. spans across the rest of the structure). The final bridge will include six traffic lanes, plus a shared-use path for biking and pedestrian travel.

Biloxi Bay piles were produced by primary supplier Gulf Coast Pre-Stress, which fabricated more than 1,200 pieces at its nearby Pass Christian, Miss., plant after an intensive test pile program. You have to remember we started work on this bridge without a complete set of plans. There were some unknowns going into this project, says Steve Twedt, MDOT district engineer. We were able to quantify what needed to be done with the piling fairly early on and make determinations about what the soil would hold. The design-build aspect let us tailor the design to meet the materials and equipment the contractors had available.

For example, on the Bay St. Louis Bridge, the contractors used large cranes and were able to get larger piling and longer spans in. For Biloxi Bay, we have more, smaller pieces because we don’t have access to larger cranes [there are 21 cranes currently operating on the Biloxi job]. We had to come up with a more efficient design and get commitments from the precasters to give us more of the same size pieces, so we could reuse molds and such.

Twedt added that many of the pilings for the second bridge are already in place, and that replacing an adjacent railroad bridge is including in the scheduling.

As was done when the first two lanes of the Bay St. Louis Bridge were opened, a ribbon-tying ceremony will be held at the center of the bridge. After a handful of first-responder fire and police vehicles make the structure’s inaugural crossing, a parade of motorcycles will follow. We wanted the fire fighters and police represented first as a symbol of those who responded first after Katrina, explains Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown. The motorcycles represent a spirit of freedom. We’re expecting riders from all over the country to attend and be a part of the parade. This is similar to the parade of antique cars we had when the Bay St. Louis Bridge opened.

Brown added that having the Biloxi bridge open again is extremely good for the local economy and tourism throughout the Gulf Coast, and that the nearby Hard Rock Cafe Casino is working with local authorities to give motorcyclists a place to park before the parade.