GALVESTON

With a new legislative hurdle to overcome before a new bridge to Pelican Island can be built, county commissioners today will discuss whether they even want to continue trying to make the long-discussed project happen.

Local officials last week were outraged to learn that a rider had been inserted into the state’s proposed budget that effectively blocks Galveston County’s plans for a new bridge.

The rider, inserted at the request of Texas A&M University, requires that the Texas Department of Transportation receive special permission from the state’s Legislative Budget Board before funding a bridge that leads to a road through Texas A&M University at Galveston’s campus on Pelican Island.

“It’s potentially in jeopardy,” said Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, the elected official who has worked the most to bring the bridge project to fruition. “There’s no guarantee the Legislative Budget Board will sign off on it.”

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 has opposed such plans and would prefer that a new bridge lead to the north of campus, officials have said. While the 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.

While the budget rider doesn’t explicitly block a bridge that leads through campus, county, city and university officials said they believed the board would be unlikely to approve spending on a project that’s opposed by a powerful entity like Texas A&M University.

Local officials were angered by Texas A&M’s efforts to block the bridge plan, because they’d long hoped the school would find some way to help fund the project.

University officials said they don’t have the ability to fund part of the bridge project, but local officials said they had hoped the school could have used its influence in Austin to help the bridge get funded in a way it could accept.

The county has long preferred building a $91 million bridge that leads to north of campus, but lacked a path to funding that plan, and earlier this year moved on to planning a $77 million bridge in the current alignment.

The county received an $18 million grant from the Houston-Galveston Area Council for the project, as well as a $45 million commitment from the Texas Department of Transportation to fund a new bridge.

On Friday, Clark also suggested that if the school could not pay for part of the bridge, stakeholders could have worked to design a road on its campus to redirect traffic.

“We’re not asking you to help pay for the bridge, all we’re asking you to do is to pay for your part out on your campus,” Clark said. “They talk about how they don’t pay for roads, but they can pay for parking lots and roads on their campus.”

An alignment that snakes around would be less efficient than other plans, but might still be feasible, Clark said.

School officials said last week they still hope to find a plan that works for everyone.

Officials have asked the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to analyze the bridge issue and to work with the city and county to try to find more ways to fund the project, said Col. Mike Fossum, the chief operating officer of Texas A&M University at Galveston.

But the project might be on a ticking clock. The $18 million grant from the area council is contingent on the county reaching an agreement with the transportation department to become the local partner for the project.

With the state’s ability to move forward with the project now in jeopardy, it’s unclear whether the county will still sign on to sponsor the bridge. The loss of commissioners’ support would be another blow to the project, as the county’s connection to the Pelican Island Bridge is tenuous.

The bridge is owned by Galveston County Navigation District No. 1 and is within the Galveston city limits. It is not part of the state highway system, though the transportation department does provide maintenance funds for “off-system” bridges.

The county’s support for the new bridge is based on the belief that a new bridge will lead to more economic development on Pelican Island. It remains to be seen how much longer commissioners want to spend on the project, officials said.

“I have spent a lot of time, energy and effort on this,” Clark said. “As some of my family members would say: not my monkey, not my circus.”

Commissioners will discuss the bridge project during a workshop meeting today. The commissioners court meets at 9:30 a.m. in Galveston.

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

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(10) comments

Ron Woody

I am new to Texas, but certainly understand the pride and rivalry of UT/A&M and much of what being from Texas means. Most Americans will not admit it but there is a bit of jealousy for the "can do" attitude and spirit of what Texans have done and continue to do through their history. Watching average Texans and corporations show up to help out the National Guard during Hurricane Harvey with Jon Boats and Monster Trucks was both admirable and amusing, but a sign of what Texans do for each other in a time of crisis.

I do not understand the entire Texas A&M Corps legacy and what it means. From what I have observed and the interaction that I have had with Aggies, sacrifice to community and country seem to be part of that legacy. How sad it is to see what TAMUG leadership has done in regard to the Pelican Bridge issue.

Below is what I just pulled from the TAMU website:

"Today, we stand as a research-intensive flagship university dedicated to sending Aggie leaders out into the world prepared to take on the challenges of tomorrow."

"Texas A&M looks to lead by example in everything we do. Our aim is to set the standard as the world-class university of the future by combining knowledge, research, and innovation to create solutions that few institutions have the depth and breadth to achieve."

Evidently, Aggies are only supposed to lead when they get their way. Does not seem to be what their mission states, but as always "Actions speak louder than words."

I am rarely a vindictive person but I despise the actions of bullies. Make no mistake what TAMU & TAMUG is doing is the action of a bully and does not coincide with the stated mission of leadership.

TAMUG should be thankful that I am not in Commissioner Clark's role. I would have flaggers at each end of the bridge making it one lane for 12 hours a day. Oh, commercial trucks coming through it magically is two lanes for 20 minutes.

Doesn't the drawbridge need to be examined and tested I think that should be tested every hour to ensure that this aging structure will not cause harm to those at the campus.

Vindictive yes, but making the bully be inconvenienced and suffer. I have no problem with that. Yes, others on the island will have to pay a price also. Let the Halliburton's and Rolls Royce's put pressure on TAMUG also. My guess is that each of the companies on Pelican Island have an TAMU connection somewhere so to say it is not their fight, makes them accomplices to TAMUG bullying.

Travis Rhodes

Texas A&M does not want the bridge to go through their campus as they perceive risks of increased industrial traffic causing potential harm to the students. There is so much more at play here than I'm sure you are aware of. Building a new bridge also does not guarantee that there is going to be more development on the island.

Jim Forsythe

When the bridge is has been labeled Condemned by the County Court, what is A&M going to do. Financing is in place now, but has a way of disappearing. The state has said it has 10 years of life left and subtract the number of years it take to build a new bridge, you are left with not many years until no one will be crossing over it.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Perhaps victory can yet be snatched from the jaws of defeat. It is time to re-visit the land bridge design that would allow for railroad connection to open Pelican Island for serious maritime commercial development. There is a land bridge design that allows for routing vehicle and rail traffic around the TAMUG campus altogether. We were provided with a useless cost estimate for this option, with a ridiculously high "contingency" percentage included, by the County's consultants because they did not want to pursue this option; and then we were told a year ago there was no time to get a proper estimate done because the State was going to take away the main funding they were offering. That turned out to be false. Let's get a VALID estimate of the land bridge option now (with all the additional massive savings it provides to the POG and other maritime interests to the costs of harbor dredging), with routing around TAMUG and let's all get behind THAT design.

Richard Moore

A&M simply ensured that they would have a "seat at the table" as the design for this bridge is flushed out. The current plans for the bridge routing were CLEARLY outside of acceptable parameters already articulated by A&M. "If" a design acceptable to all the stakeholders evolves, getting the Rider Prohibition lifted will not be difficult. Hopefully - through the Port of Galveston strategic planning process - functionally acceptable uses for Port property on Pelican Island will be identified and developers will begin creating uses for the land that would dictate a functional design AND a compelling "case" for the bridge. Until then, the County needs to "Chill".

Miceal O'Laochdha

Mr. Moore: I have difficulty understanding the viewpoint of your first sentence. A&M has HAD a seat at the table without fail for the last several years of serious discussion as the design was flushed out, and they made their desires for its design crystal clear. They just didn't get the design they wanted because they could not offer any monetary contribution; and no one else could pay it for them. What they are ensuring now is that no bridge will be built unless it is their tunnel vision design preference, still without any cost to them. Many others at that "table" did not get the design they wanted either, and for the same reason, but did not have the recourse to put their thumb on the scale that TAMUG had.

After all the years that this elephant has been stuck in the mudhole, smart money would be to invest in the new ferry boat that will soon be required to get students to TAMUG, while the existing commercial businesses relocate to another port and take their financial impact with them.

Richard Moore

There are three major land owners on Pelican Island. Only one of them - A&M has developed a Master Plan for their property. I am sure that their plan would not contemplate heavy industrial traffic through their campus. They have effectively ensured that won't happen with out their concurrence. The Port of Galveston NEEDS to articulate their planned land uses for their properties on Pelican Island, acknowledging A&M's desires (based upon their proximity to any bridge). Once the Port can decide what it wants on Pelican Island, it can then "market" their assets accordingly. The functional use of the Port Property should dictate the functional design of a bridge. I would "bet" a need for "rail" will evolve and I can't see rail traffic doing a 75 ft. hill with out lots of runway! Let the functional uses dictate the scope and design - do not "chase money" it will only get us in trouble. When a compelling case evolves - we all will figure out how to fund it!

Charlotte O'rourke

Instead of A&M having a seat at the table, it appears to want to own the table. Surely in its own Master Planning, A&M knew the bridge and road were public assets used by all property owners and industrial businesses on Pelican Island.

The A&M Master Plan and building projects should have considered the implications of having a public road with access to all properties and industrial businesses and planned its campus accordingly.

To correct a misstatement given as fact, there have been numerous port master plans, strategic master plans, studies, consultant reports, etc. by the port over the years. I know this to be a fact as I particpated as both a Board member and as a concerned resident in the planning process.

It is true that the port is conducting a comprehensive updated Master plan.

A&M is not the only entity to have such plans nor are Master Plans limited to just public entities like A&M and the two ports that own property. Putting everyone on hold is not a constructive plan, and A&M can and should be better than this.

Personally, I’m disappointed, but can get over it .... if A&M starts becoming part of the solution instegad of the problem.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Actually, the Port of Houston has also developed a Master Plan for their majority ownership on Pelican. It consists of one sentence: "Hold the property and build nothing, ever." And TAMUG need not contemplate industrial traffic passing thru their campus in their Master Plan because it is happening right now. With all the information that has been made publicly available over the last 2 years, I draw two conclusions: (1) land bridge option is the best solution for everyone (2) a smart man will buy a ferry boat to offer TAMUG for lease for when existing bridge is condemned and nothing has ever happened to replace it.

Gary Miller

The present bridge will become unusable in a few years. Will TAMUG agree to replacing it before that Happens?

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