GALVESTON — Paying for maintenance on an old toll bridge connecting Galveston to Brazoria County should fall on the wallets of those who use it a Galveston County commissioner said.
Commissioner Kevin O’Brien wanted approval to increase the $2 fee per crossing by a dollar but removed the item from a recent agenda saying the matter would need further discussion in a commissioners court workshop.
”I put it on there considering three or four years down the road from now when the bridge needs major repairs by order of (Texas Department of Transportation) we could have a sufficient fund balance to pay for it versus having to go to the citizens for Ad Valorem taxes” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said he believes the people using it should pay for it rather than dipping into the county’s General Fund to repair the county maintained bridge.
”It’s smart business in my opinion” O’Brien said. ”I’m trying to avoid having taxpayers come up with $500000 to $600000 in three or four years to repair the bridge.”
Philip Miller a Brazoria County educator and junior high football coach lives on Galveston’s West End. He pays $4 per day round trip to save what would otherwise be more than a 90-mile commute six days per week.
”If it goes up to $3 it would cost $1500 per year” Miller said. ”That’s an outrageous tax we’re being levied with. You pay the price to live in paradise. I’m not complaining about that. If I had to go all the way around I’d move to Lake Jackson.”
The county built the 112 mile bridge spanning San Luis Pass in 1966 and paid $9.4 million for a complete repair that was finished in 2004. That repair was expected to last 15 to 20 years county Engineer Mike Fitzgerald said.
A study estimated annual maintenance would cost $20000.
”I think that’s low” Fitzgerald said. ”Realistically it’s $50000 to $75000 a year.”
TxDOT inspects the two-lane bridge every other year and the county doesn’t expect to have a weight limit imposed on the bridge throughout the life of the repair Fitzgerald said. About 500000 automobiles traveled the bridge annually earlier this decade.
The cost of a new bridge in 2003 was estimated at $24 million Fitzgerald said.
Miller said he wished public servants could be exempt from paying the toll just like federal workers.
In 1994 commissioners approved a list of people exempt from paying the toll including bridge maintenance workers emergency vehicles responding to an emergency sheriff’s deputies constables and municipal police driving vehicles with exempt plates during a call.
U.S. Coast Guard personnel driving vehicles with exempt plates while on official business also are exempted along with a host of other state officers on official business. Prison vans or buses taking inmates to the University of Texas Medical Branch also don’t pay.
The Daily News received from the county via an open records request a handwritten list of those that don’t pay. It was unclear whether some of the names on the list were approved by the commissioners court. The names on that list include active military Treasure Isle water ”Pete trash pickup” school buses Texas A&M’s turtle rescue mammal rescue and security guards in uniform.
The county sells books of passes to frequent travelers that save drivers $8 per purchase Miller said.