Keeping the Pelican Island Bridge operational is a balancing act, literally and figuratively. Not only does its single-leaf bascule design (lifting from one side) depend on the operation of a series of weights and balances, its age and condition should be of interest to all Galvestonians.
The Galveston County Navigation District is looking toward the feasibility of a new bridge, but we also need to recognize that a new structure will not be in regular operation for another 8 to 10 years. For me, a big question at hand is how to best ensure the safety and reliability of the existing bridge in the meantime.
With 2,783 water-borne vessels including shrimp boats, supply boats, research boats, tugboats/barges, sailboats and pleasure craft, passing under it every year and more than 8,000 automotive vehicles passing over it each day, this rare 59-year-old bridge gets a lot of use.
As a frequent user of the bridge, I admire the excellent work of our Galveston County Navigation District No. 1’s general manager and commissioners, who over the years have reliably maintained and operated this bridge, despite a restrictive budget and the wear-and-tear of heavy use combined with our salty coastal climate.
Constructed from 1955 to 1957 as the Herbert E. Schmidt Causeway, this 3,239-foot long, 26-foot wide bridge has over the years become an essential thoroughfare to such major economic drivers as Gulf Copper, Pelican Island Storage Terminal, Rolls Royce, Martin Midstream Partners, The Galveston Pilots, G&H Towing, T&T Marine, etc. Over 2,000 students, faculty and staff at the growing Texas A&M University at Galveston campus use the aging span as well as tourists to Seawolf Park.
More personally, as the owner of a professional photography business, I use the bridge regularly to reach my Pelican Island clients and also when teaching Coastal Photography at Texas A&M University Sea Camp.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed many close calls involving the busy pedestrian and bicycle traffic between Galveston and Pelican Island. This situation needs to be addressed. My idea is to improve bridge safety by separating bicyclist and pedestrians from vehicular traffic. Why not make use of the already-in-existence railroad trestle to create a protected pedestrian walk and bike path for them?
Reliability is also a concern, as the bridge’s electrical system still depends on fuses for electrical operation. After a recent inspection by electrical engineers, the consultants admitted they hadn’t seen an operating system like this except in a museum. Although the consultants were impressed that the bridge had been so well maintained and that it was still operational, it’s time that the electrical system is upgraded.
Additionally, I understand there is no emergency evacuation plan to transport workers and students to and from Pelican Island, if the Pelican Island Bridge becomes damaged in a barge accident, etc. We need an arrangement in place before something happens.
As a Galveston Island business owner and lifelong resident I would like to see these improvements developed.
Robert Mihovil is running for commissioner of the Galveston County Navigation District No. 1.