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Pelican Island bridge might get more state funding

GALVESTON

State Sen. Larry Taylor’s office plans to file legislation this week seeking extra state funding for a new bridge to Pelican Island.

The legislation comes after Texas A&M University at Galveston officials spent last week lobbying the legislature for a bridge that goes around the campus after news broke that Galveston County and the city of Galveston were nearing a plan to build a new bridge that would continue to route traffic through the school’s campus.

The proposed legislation was announced during county commissioner’s workshop meeting Monday morning. Taylor’s office confirmed it was working on a budget item, but the details, including how much it would ask for, had not been finalized.

That news came just before commissioners learned that a new bridge would be more expensive than previously estimated.

The scaled-down bridge, the version taking traffic through the Pelican Island campus, is now estimated to cost $89 million, Galveston County Engineer Michael Shannon said.

It had previously been estimated at $77 million.

The bridge around the campus is now estimated to cost $105 million, up from a previously estimated $91 million, Shannon said.

The added costs were from normal inflation and cost escalations for construction projects, officials said. The previous estimates were based on 2018 costs.

While Friday was the deadline to file for bills and joint resolutions in the legislature, local officials said there was still a way for Taylor to introduce the bridge funding in Austin as a budget rider.

The news is the latest development of the will-they, won’t-they saga of the Pelican Island bridge, and if legislation is introduced, it could again mean that the city and county have to wait before coming out with a final plan for the bridge.

The county and city have worked on designing a replacement for the existing, rapidly deteriorating Pelican Island Bridge since 2012. Last week, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry announced he had reached a tentative agreement with the city of Galveston to get the project back underway.

Under the deal, the county would sign on as local sponsor of the bridge, which would open up the project to receive funding from the Texas Department of Transportation.

The plan would pay for a 75-foot-high span bridge that follows the current alignment of the existing Pelican Island Bridge. The existing bridge leads into the Seawolf Parkway, which bisects the Texas A&M campus.

University officials have long said they wanted a new bridge that leads to a new road north of the campus. That bridge would be more expensive.

In September, Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough announced the city would walk away from the proposal, in part because the project did not seem financially feasible. In the months since, the city and county have developed a cheaper plan, based on the current alignment.

County commissioners on Monday said that if legislation to fund the new bridge is filed, they would ask the Texas Department of Transportation to extend a deadline on $45 million in bridge funding until after the legislative session ends in May.

The transportation department had given local officials an April deadline to come to an agreement.

The potential state funding comes at the behest of Texas A&M University at Galveston officials, who are adamant they don’t want a new bridge going through the school’s campus.

To date, the university has not committed any money to the bridge project. During Monday’s workshop meeting, Col. Mike Fossum, CEO of the university, told commissioners he had spent the last week meeting with lawmakers about the school’s need for the bridge.

Lawmakers had been lukewarm to the idea of allocating money to the university for a road project, he said.

“This is a collision between transportation and higher education, it makes them flinch a little bit,” Fossum said.

Placement of the bridge could jeopardize the campus’ growth, Fossum said. Texas A&M University has invested $244 million in capital projects at the Galveston campus since 2010, and has plans to invest another $181 million by the end of 2020.

What comes after that is still up in the air, Fossum said.

“The decision on the road, the future routing of the road has us at a standstill,” Fossum said.

Henry said he was sympathetic to Fossum’s position, but was not willing to commit more county money to pay for a more expensive version of the bridge.

“There’s no way for me to find another $14 million,” Henry said.


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League City businesses worried about long-term I-45 construction

LEAGUE CITY

Business at Malay Malay is slower than usual these days.

Where once a full-time serving staff of about five worked at the restaurant regularly, now three people run things, said Danielle Darbonne, a manager at the Malaysian eatery, 2508 Interstate 45.

“Construction has taken a toll,” Darbonne said. “Other than that, we’re just hanging in here and surviving.”

Mere weeks after crews at the behest of the Texas Department of Transportation shut down the FM 646 overpass bridge spanning Interstate 45, business owners on both sides of the interstate nearby say they are starting to feel the hurt.

Owners of Olympia Grill, 2535 Interstate 45, which recently has been closed, said their business was off because of the construction.

“Of course we are,” said Larry Kriticos, an owner of the business. “If someone misses the restaurant, then they have to drive another 5 miles to get back to it.”

Olympia Grill is in Pinnacle Park, which is a 100-acre mixed-use town center at Interstate 45 and Big League Dreams Parkway. Operators of several other businesses in the development said they also were hurting because of the construction.

The sudden and abrupt closure of Olympia Grill, which only opened November after months of planning and construction, kicked up talks throughout Galveston County’s biggest city about the affect construction is having on local business.

Kriticos on Monday said he would make a decision some time this week on his plans to reopen the restaurant, which is closed “due to kitchen maintenance,” according to a sign on the door.

Representatives for businesses such as H-E-B declined to comment about whether the closures were hurting sales, but all those who did comment acknowledged the problems they were facing.

“You can never be prepared enough,” said Manish Maheshwari, who, with business partners, owns franchises Little Bella Mia and Coco Crepes, Waffles & Coffee in Pinnacle Park, near Olympia Grill.

Representatives for the developer of Pinnacle Park, Pinnacle Alliance Fund, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline Monday.

Crews on March 1 closed the FM 646 overpass as the first step in expanding the highway in that area, but ongoing Interstate 45 construction isn’t new.

Department officials have also closed down many of the exits between FM 517 and FM 518 as part of their $120 million effort to expand the interstate, leading to long lines of cars during rush hour and discouraging many would-be shoppers.

Over the next six months, crews will demolish the FM 646 bridge, with plans to eventually replace it with a street running under the interstate, officials said.

Businesses in the area can weather a six-month project, but they could have problems if that schedule slows down, Maheshwari said.

“The main thing is you don’t really know how long it will go on,” he said. “That uncertainty you saw when they closed parts of Bay Area Boulevard for construction — a bunch of businesses closed down. It’s just a matter of how long the process goes on.

“As a business owner, you love some construction because that signifies growth,” Maheshwari said. “The concern is that it’s done in a timely manner.”

City Manager John Baumgartner at Friday’s State of the City address said he thought construction on Interstate 45 in the League City area, which includes more than the FM 646 bridge work, should be finished in 2021.

The plan to widen Interstate 45 through Galveston County is divided into several phases.

The Kriticos brothers own two successful Olympia Grills in Galveston and planned for years to open the League City location.


Coming Friday

Residents wanted more street lights, but did they get more than they bargained for?


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City of Galveston to repair another major thoroughfare

GALVESTON

A project to repave and replace utilities along 25th Street could take about 18 months to complete, city official said.

In addition to repaving more than 4,000 feet of asphalt from Broadway to Seawall Boulevard, the project will replace old water and sewer lines, according to city planning documents.

In the city’s 2019 to 2023 capital improvement plan, the city estimated the project would cost about $4.6 million, the majority of which will come from a voter-approved five-year capital improvement plan.

The $212.5 million bond package, approved by voters in 2017, sought to improve streets that a 2012 survey deemed to be in the poorest condition. Other priority projects included parts of 26th Street, 73rd Street, 27th Street and the 45th Street project, city officials said.

The documents seeking potential contractors estimate the 25th Street project will take 504 days to complete and cost about $7.6 million, according to the bid.

“If everything goes according to schedule, we anticipate issuing a notice to proceed on 25th Street in June,” city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The Galveston City Council approved the project in the summer of 2017.

It’s a street that’s been a concern for residents, District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said.

Brown’s district encompasses most of the houses that line the southern half of 25th Street.

“They’re very supportive of the repairs and changes that will occur,” Brown said. “Their concern is more with the logistics and getting in and out of their homes.”

Pavement condition, drainage problems and updates to the streetscape top the concern of people living along 25th Street, Brown said.

The project also will include some additional signs to aid pedestrian crossings, replacement of some curbs and sidewalks in specific areas and improvements to landscape at the intersections, according to project documents.

The city will need to work on an efficient way to phase the project, Brown said.

“It’s such a main thoroughfare,” he said. “It’s going to need to be handled in a manner that’s not disruptive.”

The city has already spent about $575,000 on the project for engineering and design, according to the city’s capital improvement plan.

The city expects to award a contractor in April, according to city documents.