Once you get back up to Route 90 and start heading east, you are actually driving through the larger Bay St. Louis business section, which looks pretty cleaned up and back to normal along the Highway at least, although its beachside is almost as equally devastated as Waveland's. But money talks, and those businesses with the capital have been able to rebuild and reopen along the main strip. And the local economy just got a big boost from a significant event on May 17, the partial opening of the new Bay St. Louis Bridge, the original one having been largely shredded by Katrina. The new bridge will be taller and stronger than the old one. As Lisa Doyle of Construction News reported in her Nov 6, 2006 article:
"Granite Archer Western, a joint venture of Granite Construction Company, Watsonville, California; and Archer Western Contractors, Atlanta, Georgia, was awarded the $266.8-million replacement contract for the Bay St. Louis Bridge in January. HNTB is the design engineering firm.
"The project includes removal of the damaged structure and the building of a new 30-foot-high structure, with an 85-foot-high center that will allow for marine navigation and eliminate the need for a drawbridge structure in the center span. The new 2-mile-long bridge will have four 12-foot travel lanes, a 12-foot pedestrian/bicycle lane on the south side, an 8-foot inside shoulder, and a 10-foot outside shoulder. Two lanes will be complete by May 16th and completion is scheduled for November 2007." (http://www.wwltv.com/topstories/stories/wwl083105waveland.11adc324.html )
Thousands of people attended the pomp and ceremony on May 17, celebrating what was really a construction marvel along the coast. MDOT, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, was able to work closely with the Federal Highway Commission (not FEMA) to get funding and Congressional support for the reconstruction efforts in record time. MDOT did a terrific job overseeing the contractors and demanding, according to TV reports I saw, that only residential Mississippi workers, not low-paid and exploited foreign workers or out-of-state imports, were employed. The latter is the preferred Bush/FEMA method, what is known as Halliburtonization, and which has only added to the misery of the Gulf Coast in a number of cities.
The bridge reopening is a major example of how government can and should work in rebuilding the coast. Hopefully other areas will take this lesson to heart. Furthermore, the reopening restores the transportation infrastructure between Bay St. Louis and badly grieving Pass Christian, allowing both cities to now prosper from the increased traffic, tourism, and business coming from east and west along Highway 90.
Middle section of the new Bay St. Louis Bridge, with 2 lanes open now.
Sunset Along the Riviera of the South
I drove across this spanking new bridge at a roaring 35 miles an hour, all they would allow at this point, stopping briefly at Pass Christian to take shots of the bridge. It is obvious that this city also suffered tremendous damage from Katrina, but it was sunset now and getting too dark to take more than several photos.
So I headed east along US 90, taking a leisurely drive through Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport and Biloxi, white beaches and shattered piers all along the south side of the highway, green foliage, trees, empty lots and tomb-like slabs along the north side, much like Waveland. Most of the great mansions and business edifices are wiped out, some under repair, and some new construction in progress or recently completed. Again, those with the capital are rebuilding, those with none are fading away, if not gone already. This is nowhere more evident than in Biloxi, the city of Casinos and the seemingly immortal Mad Potter, but that is my next article's focus point.