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The story behind rebuilding the Biloxi Bay Bridge after Hurricane Katrina

Biloxi Bay Bridge
Photo courtesy of the city of Ocean Springs

It’s been over 18 years since Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast, destroying entire communities and washing out streets and bridges.

The storm surge reduced two major arteries, the Bay St. Louis Bridge and the Biloxi Bay Bridge, to rubble.

Nearly two decades later, it’s easy for residents who drive or walk along the concrete path on the bridge to take it for granted. However, some still recall the clash over blueprints and the compromise that eventually led to the construction of the current bridge.

Former Hancock Bank CEO George Schloegel, who went on to serve as Mayor of Gulfport beginning in 2009, had a front-row seat to the drama.

During a recent episode of The Ricky Mathews Show, Schloegel shared the details of a meeting that involved then-Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, Mississippi Department of Transportation Commissioner Butch Brown, and Jim Barksdale, who chaired the governor’s commission on the recovery after Katrina.

“I said. ‘Connie, what is it that you really, really want?’ She said, ‘Well, I want a decorative bridge, and I would like for people to be able to walk back and forth between Biloxi and Ocean Springs. I’m not so interested in the traffic count,'” Schloegel continued. “I said, ‘A.J., what do you want?’ He said, ‘That’s all fine, but I want the traffic count because that’s our doorway into Biloxi.’ Butch is sitting there … frustrated … and he said, ‘Fellas, I just want to build a bridge!'”

The group was then informed that including the walkway in the rebuilding process would add roughly $1 million to the total cost. Barksdale offered to fund the full cost of adding the walkway and delivered on his promise with his own funds.

“Connie got what she wanted with a Dixie bridge with a good walkway which we’re using every day today,” Schloegel added. “A.J. got what he wanted in having more cars to be able to go back and forth across Highway 90, and the coast got connectivity that brought Jackson County and Harrison County connected to Hancock County in such a way that it bound the communities together.”

To date, Schloegel credits Barksdale, a multi-millionaire and former CEO of a communications corporation, for his willingness to re-invest in the Mississippi Gulf Coast community.

The full interview with the former Gulfport mayor can be watched below.

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