Gilich updates status on Popp’s Ferry corridor

Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich spoke about the city’s efforts to see a new Popp’s Ferry bridge during his Breakfast with the Mayor presentation this week, and, like clockwork, hours later phones began ringing in the city’s Engineering Department, a clearinghouse for all public and private construction undertakings in the city.

“People who live on Popp’s Ferry Road, especially those north of the bridge, are understandably concerned about the impact the new bridge and wider approaches will have on their homes and property,” said City Engineer Christy LeBatard. “We certainly appreciate their concern, and they let us know every time this issue comes up.  But the truth is, there’s not much more we can say at this point, other than the city wants to build a new bridge and here are the general plans.”

During his 20-minute presentation, Gilich showed maps of progress on East Biloxi infrastructure work and discussed the plans for the Popp’s Ferry corridor, which would be part of an overall plan known as the “Biloxi Beach Connector.” The plan includes a four-lane roadway that connects from U.S. 90 at the new Popp’s Ferry extension, includes a new, higher Popp’s Ferry bridge, and connects to I-10 at Shriners Boulevard, which, of course, also provides access to Miss. 67.

The mayor even touted the idea of having an off ramp from the Biloxi Bay Bridge that would allow westbound motorists to exit onto Howard Avenue. A driving factor, he said, is the expected increase in traffic the new Margaritaville amusement park will generate.

But, to be sure, the focus was on West Biloxi traffic and the need for a viable connector between I-10 and U.S. 90 that would include a new Popp’s Ferry bridge.

Gilich acknowledged such an unfunded project, pegged at $250 million today, could take 20 years with the necessary state and federal permitting processes and property acquisitions. Actual construction on the southernmost phase, extending Popp’s Ferry Road to U.S. 90 west of the Coast Coliseum, could begin within a year from now.

It’s the bridge, however, that frustrates the 20,000 motorists who travel the major north-south route, which, Gilich noted, is vital in times of an evacuation that has to open dozens of times to allow boats access to safe anchorage upriver. In recent weeks, the bridge, which was built in 1978 and was transferred by Harrison County to the city some 20 years later, has caused traffic detours and delays because of malfunctions with the raising and lowering of its draw.

The proposed new bridge, which would not have a draw, would tower at least 90 feet above the water, compared to the 32-foot height of the current bridge’s draw. The new bridge would be four lanes, with four-lane approaches at its northern and southern ends. The southern end of the bridge would not touch land until near the intersection of Popp’s Ferry and Atkinson roads because of the bridge’s height.

However, the reason plans and timelines can’t be advanced further, LeBatard said, is because state and federal approvals are pending for a document known as an “environmental assessment,” which is a detailed and concise examination outlining impacts of the route and also rules out other potential routes.

That’s where the process is right now, LeBatard said. “Until we have the Evironmental Assessment document approved for that area between Pass Road and all the way to Riverview, we won’t have final design plans complete, and we won’t be able to tell residents exactly what the impacts will be to their properties.

“MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration still have the ability to make changes to the route,” LeBatard said, “but with the public hearings we’ve had over the years, and with input that we’ve had, we don’t expect that will happen. As soon as we receive state and federal approval, which we are hoping will be by the end of the year, we’ll be able to finalize the actual footprint of this project and be able to relay that information to the residents.”

First step after approval would be for city representatives to contact property owners to discuss impacts and surveys of land would be done, followed by appraisals.

South of Pass Road, meantime, where the city plans to extend Popp’s Ferry to U.S. 90 west of the Coast Coliseum, the route has been chosen, the environmental assessment has been completed and approved, and the city has acquired nine of the 33 required parcels of property in the path of the new roadway.

The city hopes to have the 18-month project – expected cost, $9 million – under construction by the end of 2020.
See the phases of the Popp’s Ferry corridor
See renderings of the proposed new bridge
See the Biloxi Beach connector proposal
See the idea of a Howard Avenue exit
Video: Breakfast with the Mayor highlights
Archive: See the 2004 Popp’s Ferry proposal