Highway 90 collapses after Hurricane Katrina roars through coastal Mississippi but a precast concrete causeway stands tall after the storm.
By Greg Snapper
Much of the Gulf Coast rests at or near sea level, as does Ocean Springs, Miss., just eight miles east of Biloxi. Pre-Hurricane Katrina, a short trip over the four-lane, east-west Highway 90 bridge would make for a quick commute between the two Magnolia State cities. But drivers faced detours in the months following Katrina, after the storm crippled Highway 90 – the only direct connection over the Biloxi Bay. Drivers bypassed the torn-to-pieces bridge (see photo) and found alternate routes in their Biloxi-Ocean Springs or Ocean Springs-Biloxi commutes.
Much to the surprise of commuters and even the bridge manufacturer, the Ernest Applewhite Causeway, in southeast Ocean Springs, was open and clear. Rising 30 feet above a recently reclaimed saltwater wetland area, the 74 spans, each 31 feet long, had survived the Category 4 hurricane’s high winds and water that swept right over it. The storm surge rose even higher than the 30-foot-tall structure – 8 feet above the level of the causeway, in fact. The surges left the causeway underwater for an unknown amount of time.
Robert Burgess, plant manager at Hanson Pipe & Products in Hattiesburg, Miss., saw the water line on the trees that still stand high above the bridge, confirming the extreme water level during the storm. In this first trip back to the area that had been otherwise devastated by Katrina, Burgess wondered about the condition of the causeway.
“I was hoping it was still there, but deep down I thought it was gone,” Burgess said. “The engineer who was with me that second day after the storm thought it was gone too because of the fate of the Highway 90 bridge.” But unlike Highway 90, the Ernest Applewhite Causeway was constructed of precast concrete spans and connections between the substructure, creating a solid and safe half-mile-long passage.
Originally conceived as a wetlands reclamation project, the increased height and building material chosen for the causeway were reasons why this major commuting artery was operational following the devastating storm conditions from Katrina.
This causeway, which connects parts of rural coastal Mississippi with the rest of Ocean Springs and Biloxi, stayed open due in large part to precast concrete.
Project: Ernest Applewhite Causeway, Ocean Springs, Miss.
Owner: State of Mississippi
Contractor: Fordyce Construction, Vicksburg, Miss.
Precast Manufacturer: Hanson Pipe & Products, Hattiesburg, Miss.