Bridge Reconstruction Stirs Development Debate

The Highway 90 bridge i i

hide captionBefore Hurricane Katrina, the Highway 90 bridge over Biloxi Bay carried 30,000 vehicles each day.

David Schaper, NPR
The Highway 90 bridge

Before Hurricane Katrina, the Highway 90 bridge over Biloxi Bay carried 30,000 vehicles each day.

David Schaper, NPR

A plan to replace a Biloxi, Miss., bridge heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina with a bigger version is sparking a debate over how the Gulf Coast should be rebuilt.

Before Katrina struck in August, the 1.5-mile, four-lane Highway 90 bridge over Biloxi Bay carried 30,000 vehicles per day between Ocean Springs and Biloxi. The state's plans call for a new bridge with six lanes that could handle double that traffic volume.

On the west side of the bay, just a few hundred feet from the rubble of the old bridge, work is under way rebuilding Biloxi's beachfront casino complexes bigger than they were before. Several new downtown condominium projects are also in the works.

But critics say the bridge plan anticipates sprawling growth along Mississippi's Gulf Coast even as the region's leaders say they want to change that pattern. A highly publicized planning process for rebuilding coastal communities in the wake of Katrina emphasizes new urbanism — creating more compact, walkable communities with transit and less emphasis on faster and wider highways.

Some area leaders fear a controversy over the bridge could delay and jeopardize full federal funding for the $200-million project. Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway says every day that the bridge is out of commission hurts his city's economic recovery. "I don't care if it's six lanes or four lanes," he says. "I just want that bridge back, right where it was in the same footprint, as quickly as possible."

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