Better late than never: come forward. The Bayou / Seymour Bridge project is nearing completion

OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi – When the Mississippi Department of Transportation announced the renovation/restoration of Ft. The Bayou Bridge (now officially known as the Mark M. Seymour Sr. Memorial Bridge), the project was expected to be completed by “late 2021,” according to a March 8, 2021 press release.

However, nearly six full months into 2022, work continues, with signs along Washington Boulevard alerting motorists to the bridge’s nighttime closure, as well as signs setting speed limits far lower than usual.

All of this begs the question, why?

In simple terms, the bridge was a mess – in much worse shape than MDOT’s engineers had anticipated when planning the project. Much of what they found cannot be determined until they start working.

“There was a lot more work than they expected, at first,” said Anna Ergot of MDOT’s Office of Public Affairs.

It’s been a recurring theme from the start – the bridge was in worse shape than anyone realized. In that initial press release issued in March 2021, MDOT announced that the bridge would be closed to all traffic effective March 14, with it expected to reopen within 45 days.

But by April, MDOT announced that the bridge would remain closed to traffic until late May due to the more extensive damage that engineers discovered as work began on the 30-year-old bridge.

“The damage was much worse than we expected,” project engineer Jason Winders of the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) said at the time. “We weren’t able to determine the extent until we had actually removed the parts and could examine them directly.”

The bridge connects US 90 with Interstate 10 and is one of two major evacuation routes outside of Ocean Springs, the other being Mississippi 57 at the east end of the city. During the closure, motorists were forced to use Miss.57 and I-110 to drive north.

However, the only constant during those early months was the expectation that the project would be finished by the end of 2021. But that clearly did not happen.

Troy Ross, the Jackson County superintendent, who represents the area including the bridge, said MDOT officials told him that one addition to the project was the replacement of turrets under the bridge that protect it from ships and vice versa, in the event of collision.

“They rotted very badly and were added while the contractor was in place, so they wouldn’t have to go back in a year or two and do that,” Ross said. “This was added very late in the time frame – October or November (2021).”

Ergot also noted the extra work of adding a bypass to the fuel tank, which is part of the bridge’s reserve alternator.

The good news: the project, finally, is nearing completion.

The nightly shutdowns that electronic signals alert motorists to are to test the bridge to ensure all components are working properly, Ergot said.

“The project is basically finished,” Ergot said. “Night shutdowns for testing, but they are very close to completion and should be completed by the end of the summer.”

Of course, the six months of overtime is not free. He has added another $2 million to the project, which is now worth $22 million, all funded by MDOT.

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