GALVESTON

Calling it the “low point” in the county’s six-year effort to construct a new bridge to Pelican Island, County Judge Mark Henry said Monday he was ready to walk away from the entire project.

Speaking at a workshop meeting, Henry vented his frustrations at Texas A&M University, which lobbied for a change in the state’s proposed budget that blocks the bridge from moving forward without explicit permission from the state’s Legislative Budget Board.

Henry bluntly expressed his feelings about the status of the bridge and its future.

“I don’t intend to drive over it any more,” Henry said of the bridge. “When it comes down, that’s somebody else’s problem.”

Officials on both sides agree Texas A&M’s maneuver effectively stops the bridge from being built in its current proposed alignment.

Officially, the project isn’t dead, and county officials said they would continue to meet with stakeholders in the project to determine whether they can identify a path forward.

Commissioners voted Monday to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the city of Galveston that specifies how the project will be paid for and who would take ownership of the new bridge once it’s completed.

But still up in the air is a funding agreement the county was expected to sign with the Texas Department of Transportation that would have secured $45 million for the new bridge.

The money has been set aside by the transportation department for years, and state officials have warned that if plans for a new bridge weren’t finalized, that money might be used elsewhere.

That’s what should happen, Henry said Monday.

“At this point, I’m going to recommend that we tell TxDOT to release the bridge funds,” Henry said. “I’m going to recommend that we move the money that had been earmarked for Pelican Island to another project.”

Because Henry’s comments came in a workshop meeting, the commissioners did not formally vote on his recommendations.

The transportation department did not answer questions Monday about its prognosis for the bridge project.

Other commissioners were less forceful than Henry about their feelings on the status of the bridge, but nonetheless said they weren’t sure where the project could go next.

“I don’t want to be so short-sighted that we forget the purpose of the bridge was economic development on the island,” Commissioner Darrell Apffel said. “I’m dismayed at the move that they made, but I would like for us to continue to figure out how to make this happen.”

Texas A&M University officials were invited to Monday’s meeting, but did not attend, county officials said.

For most of this year, county officials have laid the groundwork for a new bridge from Galveston Island to Pelican Island that follows the same path as the current drawbridge, which was built in 1957.

The university, citing campus safety concerns, has opposed such plans and would prefer that a new bridge lead to the north of campus, officials have said. While Seawolf Parkway runs through the campus, school officials say the road poses a risk to the school and that a new bridge should divert industrial traffic around campus.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(7) comments

Ron Woody

"Texas A&M University officials were invited to Monday’s meeting, but did not attend, county officials said."

This is such a poor example of leadership that I pity the students choosing to attend TAMU and I have never thought that about any school.

Hard to define leadership and provide solutions when one back doors a block to a plan they do not approve and then refuse to attend a meeting because you do not want to accept the repercussions.

"Leadership" sounds more like cowardice to me. Just another tradition that is being lost. I am saddened for alumni of a fine institution, they deserve better leadership and should demand such.

Theresa Elliott

I appreciate Commissioner Apffel’s approach and am very concerned with Commissioner Henry’s. Just because he “is not going over that bridge” doesn’t mean we don’t need it. Also, A&M has been a stellar community partner for decades. There are two sides to every story and I am interested to hear why they felt it necessary to put the extra legislative restrictions in place....there are usually good reasons for actions like this. And as far as them not attending the meeting, I am interested in learning why they did not attend. Let’s give them a chance to explain the answers to those 2 questions and I would bet there are more details than we realize.

AJ LeBlanc

[thumbup]

Charlotte O'rourke

Listening to others is always a good idea. Placing a bill behind your “partners” back is not.

The reason for the bill was listed as safety, but A&M needs to explain why keeping an obsolete, deteriorating bridge and public road that currently has industrial traffic is SAFER than moving forward with a new bridge.

In other words, what is the plan - besides blocking the county’s plan - and how will you pay for it?

Steve Fouga

I say again, there are three (apparently) readily available solutions to A&M's dilemma. 1) A&M could require its students and faculty to cross the street, though busy with traffic, at intersections that will inevitably have traffic signals of the type we all learned as children to use and to obey. I can attest that they are in use at campuses all over the world. 2) A&M could pay for walkover bridges which, though more expensive that traffic signals, are even safer, and less expensive than building a bridge further north. 3) A&M could pay the difference to build a bridge further north.

A fourth option is to retain the status quo, allow the existing bridge to age out, and lose all access to the campus, except by boat.

James Lippert

Elitist primadonna Aggies learn the meaning of "for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.". Of course A&M can always offer put up the money and build the bridge. Thanks Judge Mark Henry!

Ron Binkley

Texas A&M is a bully, childish and cheap.....enough said!

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