BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss.–If you saw pictures of film footage of what Hurricane Katrina’s massive storms surge did to bridges that connected communities of the coast, you may have been left with your mouth wide open.
Large, strong concrete structures were left twisted and broken. Those images are emblazoned in the minds of people who worked for the Miss. Dept. of Transportation then, and they recalled the quick rebuilding process this week.
Here’s their story:
With its 120 mph winds and 28-foot storm surge racing towards the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, causing more than $1 billion in damage to Mississippi’s transportation infrastructure. Both the Biloxi Bay and Bay St. Louis Bridges were damaged beyond repair. The loss of the bridges disconnected coastal communities, adding to the long road of reconstruction the residents already faced.
“Seeing these huge concrete and steel structures lying in the water, end over end, was to me as an engineer one of the most graphic displays of the hurricane’s strength,” said Wayne Brown, Former Southern Transportation Commissioner.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funded most of the Katrina repair and cleanup five months after the storm and worked quickly to repair these bridges, vital to rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.
“Restoring mobility along the Gulf Coast was possible because of the efforts and hard work of many. MDOT workers were on the scene the day of the hurricane, the day after the hurricane and for days, weeks, month and years following,” said Melinda McGrath, MDOT Executive Director.
Normally, it takes a least one year to design a bridge the size of the Biloxi and Bay St. Louis Bridges, with three to four more years dedicated to constructing it, but the state made these bridges a top priority following the devastation. Using a method that allowed the designing, engineering, permitting and construction to be conducted simultaneously, the Bay St. Louis Bridge was dedicated in May 2007 and the Biloxi Bay Bridge opened in November 2007. The Bay St. Louis Bridge opened in 21 months with the Biloxi Bay Bridge completed in 26 months.
“MDOT executives provided the decisive, problem-solving leadership to make these bridge replacements happen within an extraordinary timeframe,” said Ricky Lee, Former MDOT District 6 Engineer.
While the bridges provide the necessary infrastructure for the coastal communities, they also highlight Mississippi’s commitment to the arts. Using salvaged bearing plates from the old bridges, local artists created drawings that were transformed into bronze relief plaques depicting life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Artwork is installed every one-tenth of a mile on the pedestrian lane of each bridge, linking the past and the present, renewing the spirit of the region and its residents.
“We all knew the bridge would be our link to true recovery. It was built for the future, and it has given us hope that we can build our town back for the future,” said Hancock County Chancery Clerk, Tim Kellar.
MDOT will thank the community for their efforts following the storm and honor the artists chosen to have their work featured on the bridges on Saturday, Aug. 29, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Ohr-‘Keefe Museum of Art Katrina+10 Exhibit located at 386 Beach Boulevard in Biloxi. Admission to the museum will be free from 1 to 5 p.m.