THE BAY OF ST. LOUIS - The smell and tacky feel underfoot of fresh maritime paint provided proof of the mad dash of ferry preparations Tuesday afternoon.
The Marissa Mae Nicole was moored at the landing on the beach at Third Street on Henderson Point, waiting to take on its load of VIPs for one of its first trips onto the Bay.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters was on hand, joining Rep. Gene Taylor, MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown and others congratulating each other's agencies for getting everything in place for this morning's launch.
She said she saw renewing and rebuilding on the Coast and hoped that the federally funded free service would help in those efforts.
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"You're going to rise again," she said.
Taylor may have played the most important role in getting the project launched. The idea looked lost when he gathered those who could issue the permits and get the planning done on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which had wiped out the U.S. 90 bridge over the bay.
He got the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Marine Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and others to take time from memorials and ribbon-cuttings and meet at DMR's Biloxi office.
People at the meeting said he firmly but smoothly politicked those in attendance to find ways through the red tape of permits.
"Everywhere - drugstore, grocery store, hardware store - they asked when are we going to get a ferry.
I guess I had a little sense of urgency," Taylor said.
Taylor tipped his cap to MDOT, which stepped in when the Seabees were unable to perform the preparation work at the landings. Crews worked through the weekend to get ready and contractors were coaxing the last pilings into the soft Mississippi Sound bottom after the ferry tied back up.
The service will end when two lanes on the new bridge open, which has a May 16 deadline.
Ferry general manager Dietrich Giles said the ferry should have a capacity of 20 vehicles plus walk-on passengers. Hornblower Marine Services is starting on 45-minute round-trip schedules, and hopes to get to 30 minutes. If it makes a round trip every 45 minutes, it would have a capacity of 640 vehicles daily.
Cutting it to 30 minutes would increase that to 960.
The last traffic count on the U.S. 90 bridge in 2005 showed that 19,000 cars used it daily.
"I think it'll be more of a convenience for a few," Gulf Regional Planning Commission Senior Transportation Planner Kenneth Yarrow said. "I don't know how much of traffic will jump back from I-10 or any other roads."
But Taylor sees it as a boost for Pass Christian, which hasn't seen the big economic development jumps that have happened with casinos and stores reopening in Bay St. Louis and Waveland.
"It'll be bridging the gap here between us and Bay St. Louis," Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott said. "There's a lot of kids that can use it to go to school and a lot of people that go west to work."
When it runs
Hornblower Marine Services will operate the ferry from 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. and intends to start with 45-minute round trips.
Given that outline, the ferry will start with the following approximate timeline:
|Bay St. Louis||Henderson Point|
|6:30 a.m.||6:52 a.m.|
|7:15 a.m.||7:37 a.m.|
|8 a.m.||8:22 a.m.|
|8:45 a.m.||9:07 a.m.|
|9:30 a.m.||9:52 a.m.|
|10:15 a.m.||10:37 a.m.|
|11 a.m.||11:22 a.m.|
|11:45 a.m.||12:07 p.m.|
|12:30 p.m.||12:52 p.m.|
|1:15 p.m.||1:37 p.m.|
|2 p.m.||2:22 p.m.|
|2:45 p.m.||3:07 p.m.|
|3:30 p.m.||3:52 p.m.|
|4:15 p.m.||4:37 p.m.|
|5 p.m.||5:22 p.m.|
|5:45 p.m.||6:07 p.m.|
Where it runs
At Henderson Point, take U.S. 90 until it ends before the new bridge construction. Turn left on Old U.S. 90 and follow the signs to Third Street and the beach south of there.
In Bay St. Louis, the landing is at the Washington Street Pier.
Ferry do's and don'ts
From an orderly line at the ferry landings, stopping behind the chain blocking the launch and wait for the embarked cars to get off.
Follow instructions from the crew members to let them get the maximum number of cars aboard.
Walk-on passengers embark last.
Stay away from safety equipment onboard.
There is no smoking.
Vehicles are subject to search based on the Maritime Security Act in an effort to keep explosives and hazardous materials.