Mississippi Gulf Coast residents celebrated a milestone May 17 when two lanes were opened on the newly reconstructed Bay St. Louis bridge destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The new U.S. 90 bridge links the communities of Bay St. Louis and Henderson Point for the first time since 2005. The six-lane bridge, which spans 1.6 mi. (2.6 km), will be totally completed in November.
Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown called the opening of the two lanes “symbolic of the recovery of the coast.”
MDOT officials, along with federal, state and local dignitaries, began the ceremony followed by two busloads of participants taking a short ride to the top of the bridge, where they tied together a huge ribbon signifying the communities are once again connected. Participants then traveled to the Henderson Point side of the bridge and back again.
The bridge is being completed under a $266.8 million design-build contract with Granite Archer Western, a joint venture involving Granite Construction Co. of Watsonville, Calif., and Archer Western Contractors of Atlanta. The engineering design firm of HNTB teamed with the general contractors.
URS, a consulting engineering firm experienced in design-build projects, is providing project oversight on behalf of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Work on the bridge began March 8, 2006, when demolition crews began to remove the destroyed structure to prepare for the first piling for the new bridge. The first piling came on June 7, 2006.
The new bridge will have four 12-ft. (3.6 m) lanes (two in each direction) separated by a concrete median barrier, with an 8-ft.-wide (2.4 m) inside shoulder and a 10-ft.-wide (3 m) outside shoulder. It also will feature a 12-ft.-wide shared use path for pedestrians and cyclists alongside the eastbound vehicle lanes. Approximately 85 ft. (26 m) of vertical clearance is being provided to accommodate marine traffic.
“The most rewarding part of this project has been playing a part in bringing the area back to life after such a devastating storm. Reconnecting the two sides of the bay will go a long way in revitalizing the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Dan Galvin, a spokesman for Granite Archer Western.
Galvin said attracting and maintaining an adequate workforce was a problem at the start of the project.
“We advertised for workers in newspapers all over the southeastern United States. Eventually, we built up enough of a workforce and were able to move some crews off of some completed projects in Texas,” he said.
Contractors recycled pieces of the old bridge. Four barge loads — approximately 6,000 tons (5,400 t) — of rubble was placed into Bayou Caddy for use as a jetty and enhanced fish habitat.
“We always try to recycle as much of the waste as possible in our projects. Usually, it gets reused as road base, not fish habitat,” Galvin said.
He said the biggest change in the design of the new bridge is its height. The old structure was 20 ft. (6 m) tall and was half as wide. Unlike the old bridge, it doesn’t have a draw bridge.
“This one is high enough for any boat that uses St. Louis Bay,” he noted.
Some work on the Bay St. Louis side of the bridge uncovered the remains of an ancient Native American village estimated to be as much as 2,000 years old. Artifacts that included spear points and pottery fragments were discovered south of the bridge.
“MDOT worked closely with the Mississippi Department of Archives to have the artifacts preserved in accordance with state and federal guidelines,” said David Seyfarth, MDOT’s district area engineer.
He said, “This particular site did not impact the bridge replacement since the construction limits were within the existing roadway footprint.”
Seyfarth found “the biggest challenge for everyone” was communication. “With the designers, consultants and suppliers in other locations, maintaining a consistent line of communication required diligent effort. Timely decisions and issue resolution required frequent meetings, conference calls and continuous e-mail,” he said.
The project has had approximately 25 subcontractors doing such tasks as earthwork and paving for the approaches, bridge railing, steel reinforcement and removal of the old bridge. A few of the major ones include Warren Paving, Eutaw Construction, Landmark Contracting, Jay Cashman/Testa and J.L. McCool Contractors.
The project has required a lot of night and weekend work. At its peak, there were more than 300 workers.
Cranes were the predominant pieces of heavy equipment used on the project.
“They were used for pile driving, placement of precast footing components, cap placement and for lifting concrete and other materials from barges to the bridge deck,” said Steven Twedt, District 6 construction engineer.
He said there have been many challenges presented by Hurricane Katrina.
“The design-build process is new (to MDOT) and was invaluable in getting projects done quickly. The I-10 Pascagoula River bridge repair was a big success — five spans were replaced in almost a month. We also added a lane to I-10 between Biloxi and Ocean Springs to accommodate the traffic that would have used the Biloxi Bay Bridge. This project was completed in just a couple of weeks,” added Twedt.
Twedt, who has spent more than 20 years at MDOT, said the Biloxi Bay Bridge and the Bay St. Louis Bridge are the most costly and fastest paced construction projects in which he has ever been involved.
“They are 10 times the cost of what we would normally consider a major project,” he said.
Galvin noted there were 19 cranes at the peak, 16 of them on barges.
“They ranged from 60 tons to 375 tons. All but two were Manitowoc, with two of the barge mounted ringer cranes by American,” he said.
The tallest crane, according to Seyfarth, was an American 9310 Ringer with a lifting capacity of more than 300 tons (272 t). He said heavy equipment also included a barge-mounted Liebherr excavator used in demolition of the old bridge that was configured with a wrecking claw and electronics that allowed precise CADD tracking of underwater demolition and removal.
Seyfarth said the pace of the project has been incredible.
“MDOT had not completed any design-build projects previously. The actual construction is not cutting edge but the accelerated time schedule, dictated by the community’s need to rebuild, is ambitious. This resonates the importance of this vital link along the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he added.
“The contractor added staff as needed to overcome many obstacles. There were challenges with manpower, housing and mobilization of staff. Also, the speed of construction required close coordination between the contractor, the owner and the program manager [URS] to ensure field decisions were quickly agreed upon,” said Kent Dussom, a URS engineer.
Dussom, whose home office is in Metairie, La., said he has spent most of his time at the project site.
Ferry service from Henderson Point to Bay St. Louis ended when the two lanes of the bridge was reopened.
“Providing ferry service to the public was paramount due to the destruction of the bridge during Hurricane Katrina, but now that we are on schedule to have two lanes of traffic open on the Bay of St. Louis Bridge, that service will no longer be in place,” said Larry L. “Butch” Brown, MDOT executive director. CEG