A proposed land bridge isn’t part of deliberations among Galveston County commissioners to replace the obsolete drawbridge to Pelican Island, because estimates show it would be too expensive, officials have said.
But the businessman leading calls for the bridge, which would add a railroad link, argues that estimate is too high.
“I would put it at less than $200 million,” said Todd Sullivan, a principal of Sullivan Interests and a member of the Port of Galveston’s governing board.
Building the bridge would mean creating a strip of land, similar to a jetty, extending all the way across the Galveston channel to Pelican Island as a foundation for a road and a railway, Sullivan said.
Such a bridge could reduce silting in the harbor, which is costing millions to dredge, by as much as 90 percent and would allow for rail access to Pelican Island, Sullivan said.
But commissioners have insisted the concept would be too expensive to consider and came up too late in a process that already is behind schedule and facing a critical deadline.
“I don’t know where the funding is going to come from unless someone gives us $210 million,” County Judge Mark Henry said in a previous interview with The Daily News.
The bridge connecting Galveston and Pelican Island is not a county bridge, but county officials have been leading efforts to replace the aging structure with a new bridge. Galveston County Navigation District No. 1 owns and manages Pelican Island Bridge.
County officials are basing part of their skepticism about the viability of a land bridge on the results of an engineering study.
HDR Inc., a Houston engineering firm hired by the county to create three bridge design plans, returned three options, all fly-over bridges with construction and planning costs ranging from $63 million to $121 million to replace the existing Pelican Island Bridge.
The firm estimated a land bridge project would cost about $286 million, nearly $200 million more than the preferred plan to date, officials said.
But people outside of the process have asked how backfilling a jetty across the channel could be that much more expensive than building a tall, sweeping bridge of steel and concrete.
“It has to do with the material and the way it’s placed,” County Engineer Michael Shannon said. “Both options are complicated engineering feats. With a land bridge, you have tides, storm surges and forces of the ocean working against it constantly.”
Sullivan agreed that building a land bridge would be a costly endeavor, perhaps more costly than the proposed fly-over bridges, but argued it would not be as costly as estimated.
“It comes down to the volume of materials,” Sullivan said. “On a cost to ton of material basis, it might be cheaper. But it’s such a great and tremendous volume of material, it outweighs the more expensive construction process of building a bridge.”
But, while it might be more expensive than some flyover options, $286 million is a high estimate, Sullivan said.
“I’d put it at less than $200 million, but that’s based on rough calculations,” Sullivan said.
The county-hired engineers also only put together rough planning estimates, Shannon said.
“Until someone comes up and says they want to contribute $280 million, $100 million or $50 million, there hasn’t been a lot of effort expended to develop a better estimate,” Shannon said.
Any added costs of a land bridge would have to be weighed against the possible benefits a rail link would provide toward developing Pelican Island, Sullivan said.
But commissioners are in a race against time.
The Texas Department of Transportation has pledged $45 million in federal money toward a new bridge, but has set a June deadline for Galveston County to have plans for the project, officials said.
County officials are working with various entities to secure funding before that deadline, Shannon said.
Land bridge proponents are hopeful that they can complete an evaluation of a land bridge concept by March 28 and present it to commissioners to change the conversation, Sullivan said.
“You’re talking apples when we’re trying to do oranges,” Sullivan said. “Our proposal allows for rail and vehicular.”