After decades of talk about building an east-west connector road between Biloxi and Gulfport, it’s time to start building, Coast planners and members of the Gulf Coast Business Council said Thursday.
It could take 4-5 years to plan the project, find the funding and start construction, said Paul Gavin, executive director of Gulf Regional Planning Commission, and another 10 years to build it.
The plans call for:
▪ A 12.6 mile tree-lined parkway between Gulfport and Biloxi, with the goal of one day extending it across Harrison County
▪ A “multimodal” corridor with a road for vehicle traffic and rapid transit bus service, an adjacent pathway for bicycles and pedestrians, plus the potential for future light rail service between Gulfport and Biloxi.
▪ The new road would run parallel to and north or south of the railroad tracks, but not on the CSX right-of-way
▪ It would be 5.3 miles in Gulfport and 6.9 miles in Biloxi, and connect neighborhoods, commuters and visitors
The cost of the connector from Biloxi to Gulfport is $311 million, said Kevin Coggin, executive director of Coast Transit Authority. That is less than what was projected in 2007, when the idea after Hurricane Katrina was to relocate the CSX railroad tracks north of I-10.
The idea is to divide the project into 5 segments, and complete another segment about every 2 years.
“Take $311 million and divide by five and it becomes doable,” Gavin said. To get funding for the first segment would require that if only one part is built and the rest of the road not finished it would still be useful, he said.
They haven’t identified the first section, he said, “but we’re coming to that.” By fall he thinks they will have figured out where to start and in a year, he said, they hope to be able to apply for grants to start building.
“This is an idea that’s been around for a long, long time,” said Coast businessman and former Gulfport mayor Brent Warr. The idea arose back in the 1980s, he said. ”We’re kind of tired of talking about it. We need to do it,” he said.
The idea will be discussed with the Coast delegation from Washington, D.C., on Aug. 29 at the first Coastal Region Transportation Summit at the Golden Nugget Biloxi.
Instead of focusing on the cost of the project, Gavin said Coast leaders should look at the value of creating an alternative route to U.S. 90 and Pass Road.
“We need another connection to relive that congestion,” he said.
Development will grow up around the road and trail, Coggin said. And it would help with access during emergency situations and should another hurricane damage U.S. 90 and make it impassible.
Funding will be necessary from federal, state and local sources, including BP recovery funds, and the community will be involved in the project. There will be “epic public outreach,” Gavin said.