New connector highway on hold

BILOXI - A new connector highway linking Biloxi to Interstate 10 is on hold without any timetable for when it will be built, said Southern Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown.

"We're just in a holding pattern on the East Harrison County connector due to the hurricane and many other issues that are pressing us at this time," Brown said.

Biloxi leaders by split votes in 2001 endorsed the "H" route that would be an elevated highway beginning at the Woolmarket exit on Interstate 10 and ending east of the Treasure Bay Casino on U.S. 90. Last December, the Biloxi City Council asked the Mississippi Department of Transportation to reconsider the route. The Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal has recommended against elevated highways.

MDOT also had proposed one for Gulfport, but is now looking at making it ground level through the downtown district.

Biloxi's "H" route would cross the peninsula where Hiller Park borders federal property that Keesler Air Force Base now plans to use for military housing. Keesler was going to move its personnel to off-base housing before Hurricane Katrina.

The base's new plans for that property, the possibility of moving the CSX railroad tracks, the degree of public sentiment for the project and the general uncertainty over future development are among the reasons the highway project is on hold, Brown said.

A new Popp's Ferry Bridge is increasingly being viewed as a short-term fix for the city's transportation needs. The Biloxi City Council and Mayor A.J. Holloway discussed that option this week. Councilman Mike Fitzpatrick brought the connector highway up after having talked with Brown.

"Popp's Ferry is a good start, but it will not solve the problem," Brown said. "A four-lane interstate will carry 60,000 cars a day. A four-lane Popp's Ferry very stretched will carry 35,000 or 40,000. People think a four lane is a four lane. It is not. With an interstate, you don't have people backing out, traffic signals and all that stuff."

The commissioner confessed that he did not know what the answer was to Biloxi's future transportation needs, but predicted traffic will increase.

"I go to places like Destin, Fla., and you know what you do in Destin?" he said. "You sit in a car and wait. You sit in traffic. I don't want to see my Mississippi Gulf Coast become that, but by the same token, we can't pave it over."

Don Hammack contributed to this article.