Holloway to meet with structural engineers, MDOT on bridge repairs

Mayor A.J. Holloway is meeting with structural engineers and representatives of the Mississippi Department of Transportation to determine what repairs can be made to the Popp’s Ferry bridge and how long those repairs might take.

A 60-foot section south of the bridge’s draw collapsed after it was struck by a tugboat pushing eight gravel barges enroute to the industrial canal. The accident occurred this morning at 7:24. One barge sank in the area south of the channel, while the rest of the barges remained in place.

Until further notice, the city and MDOT are redirecting traffic to Interstate 110 or Highway 605. The marine channel at the Popp’s Ferry bridge remains closed to marine traffic.

Biloxi Police, working with MDOT crews, have placed detour message boards on Interstate 10 at Cowan Road and I-110 exchanges, and on U.S. 90 alerting motorists to avoid the Popp’s Ferry bridge.

Police also say the Popp’s Ferry bridge, which has been barricaded and its northern and southern ends, is closed to pedestrians.

The Biloxi Public School District has also used its telephone call-out system to notify parents that school bus deliveries could be delayed anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes this afternoon.

No injuries were reported in this monrning’s collision, but bridgetender Margaret Johnson had to be rescued by emergency workers, and her vehicle, which was parked next to the bridge tender’s house, fell into the water.

“We’re very fortunate that there was no loss of life or injuries,” said Mayor A.J. Holloway, who surveyed the scene and spoke to Johnson immediately after emergency workers used ladders to lower her from the isolated bridgetender’s house.

“Our bridgetender did everything she was supposed to do,” Holloway said. “She was aware of the approaching tug, she lowered the crossing bars and raised the draw spans, but the barges began veering to the south and out of the channel, striking the bridge south of its bumper system.”

Holloway, who has been pushing for more than a decade for a new and wider bridge at Popp’s Ferry, said he hoped the accident could help speed up that project.
The city, working with MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, was able to have contractors replace the Katrina-damaged bridge in four months. That project cost about $8.3 million, which included a million-dollar incentive bonus for the contractor.

“We’ve said all along that this was not an ‘if’ situation, but a ‘when’ situation,” Holloway said. “Now, our goal is to see how quickly this bridge can be repaired, find the funding, and push even harder to get a new-and-safer bridge in place.

“We’re also asking motorists to be patient as they make these detours. Leave early and plan on arriving later. Be courteous, and drive defensively. We’ve gone through this before, and we’ll get through this.”

As he surveyed the accident scene from emergency boats, Holloway also spoke on the phone with MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown, who offered MDOT assistance.

MDOT is also planning to monitor changes in traffic patterns with traffic on U.S. 90 and to adjust the timing on traffic signals accordingly.

“MDOT will support the City of Biloxi in any way necessary following this morning’s accident at Popp’s Ferry Road,” said MDOT Southern Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown. “Crews have placed barricades and changeable message boards to help redirect traffic while the on-site assessments and repairs are conducted. We are urging the motoring public to drive with caution along the detour routes and we regret any inconveniences as the bridge repairs are underway.”

Online photo gallery

To see photos from the Popp’s Ferry bridge collision — including the rescue of bridgetender Margaret Johnson — click here.