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Bridge to bridge

East and west connectors to Hancock and Harrison counties are shining examples of recovery construction on the Gulf Coast

A number of Coast landmarks destroyed by Hurricane Katrina have rebuilt in the past five years. Along with their physical beauty and functionality, their emotional symbolism has been a source of strength for residents and visitors.

Two of the most high-profile projects were the replacement bridges on U.S. Highway 90 that are vital to linking the three coastal counties together across the Bay of St. Louis and Biloxi Bay. With multi-million-dollar incentives to complete the bridges on deadline, contractors at times worked round the clock.

BAY ST. LOUIS BRIDGE

BAY ST. LOUIS BRIDGE

The bid for the Bay St. Louis Highway 90 Bridge was awarded to the design/build team of Granite Archer Western at a cost of $266 million. Unlike the old bridge, the new ones is a high rise with four lanes, emergency lanes and a 12-foot pedestrian lane.

The new bridge spanning the Bay of Biloxi from Biloxi to Ocean Springs is located 150 feet south of the old bridge. Contractors were GC Constructors at a cost of $338.6 million.

On each side of the Coast, communities were thrilled with the new bridges. “The Bay Bridge is a stunning symbol of our recovery,” said Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce. “It gave us hope and set the benchmark for rebuilding on the Mississippi Coast.”

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown was surprised at how emotional the bridge opening celebrations were to area residents. “It was very touching to me,” he said. “People who had lost their homes came out and cooked for MDOT employees. People were emotional at reaching these milestones.”

He points out that the two bridges were built in record time. “We’re very proud of them,” he said.

“They are beautiful, and we never dreamed the walking lanes would have so much use.”

The Hancock County Courthouse was originally completed in 1911 at a cost of $25,000 with furnishings that included bedding in case jurors had to be sequestered overnight. Katrina left it severely damaged and uninhabitable. Located on Main Street in Bay St. Louis, the building has been completely restored to its neo-classical revival style. It is the tallest building in Old Town and designated a State Landmark. At a cost of $6 million, the project was funded through state and federal agency recovery funds. Designs dating back to the early 1900s were used to restore the building to its original grandeur.

BILOXI BAY BRIDGE

BILOXI BAY BRIDGE

The renovation included an annex for additional office space. This new addition blends seamlessly with the original structure and doubles the building’s size. The original jail still exists in the Southeast corner, tucked between the primary building and the new addition.

“The Courthouse’s re-opening in 2009 provides a beautiful presence to Main Street with a bustle of activity for downtown merchants,” Williams said. “It is a sign of better things ahead for this area, and it is a symbol of the county’s commitment to keep this important government facility.”

Built in 1836, Grass Lawn stood for more than a century and a half on Highway 90 in Gulfport, and its likeness occupied a spot on the city’s official seal. It was built as a summer home by a Port Gibson surgeon and for many years owned by the Milner family who sold it to the city in 1973. Because of political, historical and architectural significance, the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. For decades it was a popular location for weddings, receptions and parties.

Grass Lawn was totally destroyed by the hurricane but has been replaced with a $1 million, 3,600-square-foot replica with a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives & History and insurance funds.

“The resurrection of this great Southern home is a stunning symbol of our city’s recovery and a glaring reminder of what we’ve been through and just how far we’ve come,” said Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel.

Biloxi’s impressive new visitors’ center is being built to resemble the outside of the historic Dantzler House that stood on the Highway 90 property and was demolished by Katrina. A completion date has not been announced for the 25,000-square-foot, two-story building.

“What you won’t notice is that it will be elevated nine feet, making it about 20 feet above sea level,” said city spokesman Vincent Creel. “And what’s inside will be remarkable, including nine multi-media exhibits that tell the history of Biloxi and the Gulf Coast, our connection to the water and how it’s played such importance here, the cultures of our communities, the Lighthouse and area pioneers. It’s where you will definitely want to take anyone who visits the Coast.”

Cost of the structure is $14 million in Mississippi Development Authority and local funds, with an additional $1 million for the exhibits.

The Old Brick House on Biloxi’s Back Bay survived the hurricane and is being restored. It is an example of the mingling of French Colonial and American building traditions. The property was once owned by Jean Baptiste Carquotte who received a land grant from the Spanish government in 1784. Now owned by the city, it was saved from years of neglect by Coast garden clubs in the 1950s and before Katrina was operated as a historic house museum and community gathering place.

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About Lynn Lofton

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