Port Bolivar: State transportation agency drops $240M bridge plan

PORT BOLIVAR — The motorists who waited for more than an hour this weekend to take the 15-minute ferry ride from Galveston to the Bolivar Peninsula likely thought at least once about how nice it would be to have a bridge connecting the two points.

Next weekend’s ferry passengers likely will think the same thing as will drivers making the journey 10 years from now.

The Texas Department of Transportation has finally admitted defeat to the cost-benefit ratio canceling any plans it had to build the longed-for bridge.

”We never got a clear idea of how much it would cost or who would pay” state transportation department spokesman Norm Wigington said. ”Clearly there is no money to built it.”

Hefty Costs

State officials who claimed still to be looking for a funding partner for the project in July estimated the bridge could easily cost more than $240 million.

Wigington said the state had considered building a tolled bridge with users helping to shoulder the cost. But state law requires tolled roads to be flanked by free alternatives which would require the agency to continue to operate the ferry system Wigington said.

The ferry operations will cost the state $16 million this year.

Wigington also said state officials considered environmental concerns and a lack of community support for the bridge before deciding to drop the project.

$2.3 Million Study

The state poured millions into investigating the project’s viability since 2000 paying consultants $2.3 million to investigate environmental concerns associated with different locations and surveying ferry users to find out what they wanted.

The proposed connection between Pelican Island and the peninsula was not popular with city of Galveston officials but 63 percent of 1731 ferry passengers surveyed in 2006 supported replacing the boat ride with a bridge.

From the state’s perspective Wigington said the statistics meant one-third of respondents did not want a bridge and 42 percent did not want a tolled bridge.

For pricey construction on an eroding barrier island Wigington said the list of objections was too long to overcome.

County Judge Jim Yarbrough said he understood the state’s position but still was disappointed.

”Certainly the cost of construction is going out the roof so I can understand where the cost-benefit ratio isn’t there” he said. ”But long-term it certainly hampers the ability for Bolivar to develop. That’s why you see such a Beaumont influence in that area. It’s easier to go east than west.”

Accessibility Problems

Beaumont is about 63 miles from Crystal Beach while Galveston is only 17 miles away.

But with ferry waits especially during the summer months the peninsula’s residents can get to shopping destinations and other amenities faster by driving the longer distance.

Yarbrough said accessibility problems could be lessened by enhancing the ferry service but said the state had not made any promises when it told him the proposed bridge project was dead.

Wigington said for now the only planned improvement was a new $22 million ferry that will increase the fleet to six boats. But ferry capacity is irrelevant if the service can’t keep enough employees on board to run them a problem Wigington said officials were working to resolve.

”We are aware of those issues and the need to address them in the future” he said. ”But I don’t have anything more definite on that at this point.”

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