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.