Bridge on schedule

BILOXI - Building a bridge is no simple task.

Consider this. So much concrete is being used in the new Biloxi Ocean Springs Bridge that the 86,000 cubic yards would be enough to pour a sidewalk from here to Greenville.

Engineers explained the logistics Wednesday in a media tour of the $338.6 million project. The bridge is on schedule to open to one-lane traffic by Nov. 13 and to be complete by April 16, 2008. It will be very similar in appearance and design to the Pascagoula high-rise bridge.

The six-lane bridge will not have a drawbridge.

If contractors meet the November deadline, they get a $5 million bonus. If not, they are penalized at the rate of $100,000 a day.

"Yesterday, we made our first concrete deck pour for the project," said Kelly Castleberry, project engineer with the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

The decks are the horizontal slabs suspended between the bridge's columns. The pilings, footers, columns and caps can be seen rising from the water like dominoes. About 15 large cranes anchored on platform barges are being used to erect the supports. A tugboat brings fresh concrete from the shore to be lifted and poured.

URS is the private engineering firm working on the project with GC Constructors. The bridge is being designed while built, a process that shortens the conventional design-and-bid process by 1.5 to 2.5 years.

The design is now 90 percent complete. The bridge will have a pedestrian walk with three scenic overlooks. Artists will be commissioned to use brass from the old drawbridge into relief plates along the walk.

The bridge is more hurricane-resistant because of its height above a storm surge, the weight and length of its spans and the gravity of "shear keys" designed to keep the spans in place.

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown pointed out the federal government is paying 100 percent of the construction. After Hurricane Camille in 1969, the state had to pay part of the cost, he said.

Concrete from the old bridge is being used to build a reef south of Deer Island to protect it from erosion and to create a fish habitat.