Coast Guard: Waterway open at damaged Biloxi span

Published 11:09 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Coast Guard reopened the waterway Monday at the damaged Popp’s Ferry Bridge in Biloxi and approved a salvage plan to remove sunken barges and debris.

The heavily traveled drawbridge on Biloxi’s Back Bay was closed Friday after a barge accident. Two 90-foot sections of the bridge were destroyed along with eight pylons. The total length of the bridge is more than 3,983 feet and salvage operations were to begin immediately.

The cause of the bridge accident is under investigation.

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Meanwhile, Biloxi’s city council declared a state of emergency Monday afternoon after Mayor A.J. Holloway said he wanted the bridge repaired before hurricane season. Holloway wants the work completed in 60 days or less.

Holloway said the Mississippi Department of Transportation can now take charge of the bridge reconstruction with Federal Highway Adminstration emergency funding and will receive any insurance reimbursement.

Holloway met with the city’s structural engineers and officials from MDOT after surveying the damage. He said the bridge is critical for day-to-day travel and that’s why he wanted a state of emergency declared.

The tugboat and several of the eight barges it was pushing upstream were removed, and a crane was moved in so salvage crews could remove the remaining debris. The lead barges were involved in the collision, with one sinking and the other listing due to being covered by a portion of the collapsed bridge, the Coast Guard said.

Officials said bridgetender Margaret Johnson was the only person on the bridge at the time of the crash and was able to escape.