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Transportation commissioner says Biloxi road on hold

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown says the proposed new connector highway linking Biloxi to Interstate 10 has run out of gas for now.

“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.

Brown had no prediction on when the project would be revived.

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.

The Biloxi City Council asked the Mississippi Department of Transportation last December 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 struck on Aug. 29, 2005.

Brown said among the reasons the Biloxi project is on hold include Keesler’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.

The Biloxi City Council and Mayor A.J. Holloway this week discussed the possibility of a new Popp’s Ferry Bridge, which is increasingly being viewed as a short-term fix for the city’s transportation needs.

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.”

Brown acknowledged 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.”