Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Important Mississippi Bridge Reopens

During my three months in Louisiana, I only made it out to Mississippi once, in November 2006 (though I was also there in March 2006). I drove out on US-90 to Gulfport with two friends from St. Luke's Coeur d'Alene, Bob and Marty Gustafson. Bob had been to Pass Christian immediately after the storm to help out at Trinity Episcopal Church, and wanted to see what things were like a year later.

US-90 sits right on the beach, passing through Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, and Biloxi. We intended to drive out to Biloxi, but lost a full hour: it turned out the bridge connecting the communities of Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian had been destroyed by Katrina, and was still out over a year after the storm. The state was running a (free) ferry instead, and although it was a very scenic ride, it was also a very slow one. We waited over half an hour for the ferry, then waited another half hour on the ferry. That hour would have usually been five minutes, tops. At least it was a pretty ride - but a year after the storm, and they still hadn't fixed a major highway???

Well, good news! The new Bay St. Louis Bridge finally opened earlier this month! This is wonderful news for the Mississippi Gulf Coast economy, as it speeds up an important commute, builds infrastructure, and improves the tourist options. According to the Times Picayune, "A small white sign summed up this weekend's mood in Bay St. Louis, Miss. 'Hallelujah! The bridge is open,' said the sign next to U.S. 90 in front of an equipment-rental place. The brand-new bridge, a 2-mile span of U.S. 90 that connects Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis, opened less than two weeks ago, replacing the original bridge, which had crumbled during Hurricane Katrina."

Here's an excerpt from the Mississippi Sun Herald's website:

"Karen Price, co-owner of Bohemia, a funky novelty and clothing store on the first block of Main Street, spent the morning preparing her business for what she hopes will be the start of something profitable. 'Business has been very slow down here,' she said. 'We can't survive just from Second Saturday to Second Saturday.' Bohemia and other downtown shops have done well on the second Saturdays of each month, when the district holds its famed block parties, but Price is hoping the bridge brings weekday foot traffic back to Old Town the way it was before Aug. 29, 2005."

Bohemia's wish has been granted. Going back to the Times Picayune, "Darlene Kimball, who runs Kimball's Seafood in Pass Christian, did a booming business on Sunday. 'Everything has doubled here for me since the bridge opened,' she said. During the more than 600 days it lacked a bridge, her hometown had suffered badly. 'It was a deserted town,' she said. Highway 90 was so dead that a person could cross it without looking, she said. And businesses like hers had limped along without their usual customers, many from New Orleans and many from the other direction, toward Gulfport."

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