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Ferry Fills In for Damaged Bridge in Mississippi

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Ferry Fills In for Damaged Bridge in Mississippi

Katrina & Beyond

Ferry Fills In for Damaged Bridge in Mississippi

Ferry Fills In for Damaged Bridge in Mississippi

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Broken Bridge, Credit Evie Stone

The U.S. 90 Highway bridge spanning St. Louis Bay sustained extensive damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Evie Stone, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Evie Stone, NPR
Ferry, Credit: Noah Adams, NPR i

A car ferry has temporarily replaced the Highway 90 bridge during repairs. What was once a two-minute bridge crossing is now a 45-minute ferry ride. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
Ferry, Credit: Noah Adams, NPR

A car ferry has temporarily replaced the Highway 90 bridge during repairs. What was once a two-minute bridge crossing is now a 45-minute ferry ride.

Noah Adams, NPR
Dept of Transportation Engineer, Credit: Noah Adams, NPR i

Chuck Starita is an engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. He says the bridge is on schedule for a partial opening on May 16, 2007. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
Dept of Transportation Engineer, Credit: Noah Adams, NPR

Chuck Starita is an engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. He says the bridge is on schedule for a partial opening on May 16, 2007.

Noah Adams, NPR
Bridge, Credit: Noah Adams, NPR i

Fragments of the Highway 90 bridge stand behind a recently completed CSX railroad bridge. Both bridges were damaged in the storm. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
Bridge, Credit: Noah Adams, NPR

Fragments of the Highway 90 bridge stand behind a recently completed CSX railroad bridge. Both bridges were damaged in the storm.

Noah Adams, NPR

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, its storm surge smashed through the U.S. 90 Highway bridge spanning the St. Louis Bay.

Without the bridge, residents were forced to drive 27 miles — up to the interstate and back down to the coast — to get from Bay St. Louis to Pass Christian. What was once a two-minute bridge crossing turned into a 45-minute drive.

Last October, a free ferry service was started to temporarily replace the damaged bridge. Travelers can now take their cars and trucks across St. Louis Bay on the Marissa Mae Nicole, a double-ended car ferry.

Yet residents still miss the highway bridge. The town has been frustrated by the pace of the bridge rebuilding, says Buz Olson, a Bay St. Louis official.

Chuck Starita, an engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, says the bridge is on schedule for a partial opening on May 16. If the bridge isn't ready, the contractor will be forced to forgo a $5 million bonus.

A Slower Pace

Without the bridge, residents have had to adapt to traveling at a slower pace. To meet demand, ferry Captain Ken Skrmetta and his crew work 12-hour days — 6:30 a.m. until after dark.

They run the ferry on 12 round trips between the city of Bay St. Louis on the western side and the town of Pass Christian on the east. But sometimes they can't run in the shallow water.

"This morning," Skrmetta says, "we had a norther' blowing pretty hard – 20 to 25 knots out of the northwest – and along with the natural low tide it blew all the water out of here. So we had to hold up for a couple of trips."

Rebuilding

High water and waves surging from the Gulf during the storm also caused a CSX railroad bridge — beside the Highway 90 bridge — to collapse.

CSX rebuilt in a comparative flash. In about four months they were able to send a work train across the tracks. The highway bridge got a slower start and will not be fully finished until November.

"[The Highway 90] bridge is the lifeline to the rest of the area," says Bay St. Louis official Buz Olsen. "You just don't feel like you're part of the coast."

Olsen says the Mississippi Department of Transportation has made a good effort to get the bridge up, but he maintains that the CSX corporation held the advantage:

"[In the private] sector, they don't have to deal with the federal issues, [the] paperwork and the bidding process," Olsen says. "CSX just said, 'Let's get this bridge open.' And they just threw the money at it and said, 'Let's get it done.'"

Still, Mississippi Department of Transportation engineer Chuck Starita says the rebuilding process has gone much more quickly than it normally would.

"This bridge would typically take many years in the design process," Starita says. "The right of way process, the bidding process, the construction process... This is extremely fast compared to what we can normally do."

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