Despite questions about the prospects of a proposed $91 million bridge to Pelican Island, Galveston County commissioners today will consider asking the Houston-Galveston Area Council for $18 million to fund the project.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on a resolution that would direct county staff members to apply for the money through the Houston-Galveston Area Council transportation improvement program.
Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark said a grant from the area council would go a long way toward constructing the bridge. If granted, the money could be used as a local match to the $45 million the state already has offered toward the project.
“We’ve got $45 million hanging out there,” Clark said. “We’ve got to put the rest of the pot of money together, so the idea is to go to H-GAC.”
Clark is the county’s representative on the area council board of directors and the vice-chairman of the council’s transportation advisory committee.
If approved, the county’s request would come weeks after the city of Galveston announced it would not sign on to be the local sponsor of the bridge.
The Texas Department of Transportation has offered $45 million to help replace the existing Pelican Island bridge, which is deteriorating and in need of extensive repairs. City, Port of Galveston and county officials also believe a new bridge would open up economic development on Pelican Island. The transportation department requires a local partner to use the funding it has offered.
Galveston officials said the city charter prevented the council from agreeing to be the local partner for the bridge without a city-wide vote. The city could not schedule a vote before a deadline the transportation department had set to reach an agreement on the new bridge.
While Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough said the city would begin planning for a new, less expensive bridge project, he said he didn’t think it was inappropriate for the county to seek funding from the area council.
“I’d be very supportive of the county moving forward,” Yarbrough said. “We’d be supportive of that application.”
Despite the city’s actions over the past month, Clark said he’d not heard of any change of plans from the transportation project about the bridge. Yarbrough has plans to meet with state officials about the bridge in coming weeks, he said.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council directs federal funding to transportation projects in a 13-county region that includes Galveston County.
In September, the council opened applications for projects that could be partially funded with federal dollars. The council has $920 million available for highway, freight, transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects, according to the group’s website.
An $18 million grant would cover a significant part of the cost of the bridge, officials said. Galveston County already has set aside $4.5 million for the Pelican Island bridge project as part of an $80 million bond package approved by voters in 2017. Other entities, including Texas A&M University at Galveston and Galveston County Navigation District No. 1, have also indicated they would pay some part of the cost of a new bridge.
The county has until Oct. 31 to submit an application for funding from the area council. A draft list of projects will be selected in January. The public will be able to comment on the projects in February 2019, and the final recommendations will be made in March.