A year after a round of public meetings once again raised the possibility of a toll bridge between Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula an environmental study is dead in the water because the state hasn’t found a partner to help pay for the project.
The Texas Department of Transportation spent $1.3 million for a Bolivar bridge study in 2000 and authorized $1 million for another feasibility study that began last year.
The department hired HNTB a national transportation engineering firm to conduct initial studies and surveys. The project Web site furnished by HNTB www.bolivarbridge.com hasn’t been updated since last year.
The company began studying the environmental ramifications of several possible routes across Pelican Island and onto the peninsula but now the entire project is at a standstill said department spokesman Norm Wigington.
The state has suggested that a bridge to the Bolivar Peninsula could easily cost more than $240 million.
Wigington said the transportation department needs a partner such as a county city toll agency or private developer to leverage funds for the project.
He said the Harris County Toll Road Authority once was interested but its involvement would have required approval from the Legislature.
Peter Key deputy director of the toll road authority said the agency’s interest faded years ago.
”I’ve been here two years” he said. ”We haven’t worked on that project since I’ve been here and we have no intentions of working on it in the foreseeable future.”
Besides finances the project has to clear several hurdles including physical ones.
The Port of Houston wants assurances that a bridge would not impede taller ships of the future while environmentalists worry about damages to bird populations and wetlands.
But there is little doubt that some ferry users accustomed to long wait times would welcome a bridge.
In a survey of 1731 ferry users conducted by HNTB in May 2005 63 percent supported replacing the ferry with a bridge and 58 percent said they would use a toll bridge.
Galveston County officials have said a bridge would improve hurricane evacuations and emergency response.
County Judge Jim Yarbrough said commissioners have supported the concept of a Bolivar bridge — and possibly even a financial partnership with the state — but have yet to hold detailed talks.
Galveston’s city manager Steve LeBlanc said the city council has not taken an official stance on the bridge concept.
At a meeting last summer Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said she was disappointed that the state transportation department had narrowed a list of preliminary corridors for state Highway 87 to three routes across Pelican Island. Jackie Cole then a city councilwoman said the city had not had enough input on which routes the state would consider.
HNTB found that the state spends more than $12 million a year maintaining and operating the ferry and that a bridge would be far cheaper to maintain.
Next week the state is expected to award a $17 million contract to add a sixth boat to the ferry fleet. But passengers could still languish in long lines partly because the transportation department has trouble keeping the ferry staffed state officials have said.
There’s at least one intangible hurdle when it comes to getting a bridge built Yarbrough noted.
”All of us who have been around here a long time are kind of fond of the ferry” he said. ”It’s a nice unique deal and we’d hate to lose that.”
Of 1731 responses to a Texas Department of Transportation survey of ferry users in May 2006:
64 percent rated improvement of ferry wait times as very important.
53 percent said the ferry service was inadequate.
64 percent said the ferry service was inadequate for hurricane evacuations and medical emergencies.
63 percent supported replacing the ferry with a bridge.
58 percent said they would use a toll bridge.