Leaders gather to mark Keesler gate project

Local, state and federal officials joined Keesler Air Force Base leaders Thursday to announce an estimated $37 million project to locate a new main entry gate at Division Street and Forrest Avenue. The two-year project includes an expanded and enhanced boulevard along Division from I-110 to Forrest Avenue.

“The State of Mississippi is proud to support the relocation of Keesler Air Force Base’s main entry and security gate, which will provide the enhanced security for Keesler’s airmen and the nearly 11,000 workers supporting the base,” Mississippi Gov. Bryant said in a statement read at the event. Gov. Bryant was scheduled to speak at the ceremony but sent his regrets for being unable to attend so that he could deliver remarks at the funeral for a Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy who was killed in the line of the duty over the Memorial Day weekend.

With Keesler’s boundary fence as a backdrop, Sen. Roger Wicker, Congressman Steven Palazzo, Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich and Col. Michele Edmondson told those gathered at the site of the new gate that the project will eliminate a base security concern, help alleviate traffic congestion and provide an economic development corridor for the City of Biloxi. Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Glenn McCullough underscored the State’s support. And Myrtis Franke, director of the Southern District Office of Sen. Thad Cochran, also read a statement from Mississippi’s senior senator, who crafted federal funding for the project.

“This has been dreamed about for years, and together the partners have taken the dream and made it reality,” said Mayor Gilich. “The new gate was my No. 1 priority upon taking office two years ago, and thanks to the collaboration and support from Sen. Cochran and Sen. Wicker, Gov. Bryant, Col. Edmonson and Congressman Palazzo, we’re here today to announce a project that will advance the long-standing relationship between Biloxi and Keesler. There were many others involved in this process, and we are indebted to every one of them.”

Keesler and Biloxi have contemplated a new main entry gate for more than 15 years. The current gate at White Avenue does not meet modern security standards of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force. Additionally, nearby railroad tracks and advanced security protocols require large trucks to enter through residential areas along Back Bay, contributing to oft-congested traffic flow in all directions. The new gate will eliminate those issues with a broader entryway that includes a new Visitors Center and multiple security screening areas for military, civilian and commercial check-in.

“The Division Street Gate will provide an efficient, secure, and aesthetically pleasing main entrance to Keesler AFB that has been needed for a long time,” said Col. Edmondson, Commander of the 81st Training Wing. “The funding and construction of the Division Street Gate is a fine example of cooperation between state, local, and federal agencies to achieve a result that is beneficial to all.”

A significant portion of the project will involve widening Division Street to four lanes with a median, new lighting and sidewalks. It will provide a seamless corridor for all traffic entering and exiting the base via I-110. The improvements to Division will stimulate economic growth along the half-mile pathway and more easily accommodate increased traffic in the event of any future mission expansion at Keesler.

“This is a great day for Keesler Air Force Base,” Sen. Wicker said. “It demonstrates the persistence of this community and the teamwork shown by so many in the City of Biloxi, the State, and our congressional delegation. The new main gate will provide access to and from Keesler and I-110, opening up a new economic corridor. Most importantly, it will help keep our airmen, civilians and their families safer.”

Phase I of the project involves property acquisition at Forrest Avenue, and creation of a new roadway from Division onto Keesler toward Larcher Avenue. The City of Biloxi is overseeing Phase I work for Keesler through a $5 million Mississippi Major Economic Impact Authority Base Enhancement Program grant provided through the Mississippi Development Authority. Other confirmed funding includes $11.7 million in federal money and $10 million in BP settlement money appropriated by the State Legislature. Biloxi is working with federal and state partners to secure the remainder of project funding.

“The new Keelser Gate project is the result of an unbelievable amount of hard work,” said Congressman Steve Palazzo. “Senators Cochran and Wicker, the Governor, and I, with the help of Mayor Gilich, have been working for years to resolve what we have long known to be a very serious safety issue.  In the long term, the completion of this project ensures that Keesler continues to operate at maximum efficiency while keeping the airmen stationed here safe and secure.  South Mississippi is a military community, and to keep our military strong we must continue to invest in providing the very best for our men and women in uniform. This project keeps that promise.”
See a timeline for the Keesler gate
See images from the announcement
See the 31 minute MDA video of the announcement 
See the preliminary rendering of the Division Street entrance



News and notes

Shuckers doubleheader: The Biloxi Shuckers will play a doubleheader with Mobile BayBears tonight beginning at 5:05 at MGM Park. The twin bill will feature two seven-inning games, with game two games beginning about  30 minutes after the end of Game 1.  To see more about the Shuckers, click here. 

Preservation bonus: The Preservation in May Series will conclude tonight with a bonus event at the St. Michael Catholic Church.  The church will celebrate its 100th anniversary at 5 p.m. at the St. Michael Family Life Center followed by the Mass of the Deceased Fisherman which will kick off the Blessing of the Fleet weekend of activities.  To see the flyer, click here

R U ready?:  On this first day of hurricane season, the City of Biloxi wants to help make sure you are ready for a storm or flood by hosting preparedness outreach events.  The events will be from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at three locations: on Tuesday, June 20 at the Dr. Frank G. Gruich Sr. Community Center; Wednesday, June 21 at the Donal M. Snyder Sr. Community Center; and Thursday, June 22 at the Joppa Shrine Center.  To see the flyer, click here.

Biloxi happenings:  This week’s City Desk podcast has follow-up discussions on the Conference USA baseball tournament and the recent vote on the mayor’s homeless initiative, as well as a preview of this weekend’s Biloxi Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet. To listen to the program, which was recorded earlier today at City Hall, click here.