Pelican Island plans

A petroleum truck turns onto Gti Boulevard from Seawolf Parkway on Pelican Island on Tuesday, July 2, 2019.


Top officials at Texas A&M University at Galveston have met with the Texas Department of Transportation to make clear their concerns about trucks carrying volatile and hazardous chemicals through their campus on Pelican Island.

The conversations are part of an effort by school, state and local officials to resurrect plans for a new bridge to Pelican Island, which university officials two months ago blocked by lobbying state budget writers.

The university doesn’t oppose a bridge, Col. Mike Fossum, chief operating offer at the Pelican Island campus, said. But university officials do have concerns about industrial traffic driving through the growing campus and the potential for a new bridge to bring more, he said.

“We would love to help grow the industry and the tax base on Pelican Island, but my first responsibility is for the safety of my students,” Fossum said.

The school has identified 20 industrial businesses that carry potentially dangerous chemicals along the Seawolf Parkway, Fossum said. So far, the university has only been able to identify only some of the materials that regularly pass through the campus, he said.

“We’ve tried to research what hazardous materials are used by them and are traveling on the roads, public information is only available on three of those 20,” he said. “We’ve got a scary list and this is toxic material.”

The list includes barium sulphate, calcium bromide concentrate and other chemicals that are used in oil well drilling fluid and petroleum products like fuel oil cutter stock and carbon black oil.

The Seawolf Parkway, which runs the length of Pelican Island, is a registered hazardous material route, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Forty percent of the traffic that moves through the campus is heavy industrial traffic, Fossum said, citing traffic studies the university conducted.

If one of those trucks spilled its cargo, or crashed, it could endanger students living in dormitories or people working in academic and administrative buildings, Fossum said.

One of the school’s dorms is within 60 feet of the parkway, he said.

Fossum met recently with Texas Department of Transportation district engineer Quincy Allen and commissioner Laura Ryan to detail his concerns, he said.

The meeting led to a “clear understanding” of the hazards the campus faces, he said.

The issue of industrial traffic moving through the campus is tied to the university’s objections to some plans for a new bridge to Pelican Island.

In May, after city and county leaders had settled on a plan to jointly construct a $77 million bridge across the Galveston ship channel, A&M University officials lobbied the legislature to block its construction.

The agreed-upon bridge would have followed the alignment of the current bridge, which leads traffic through the Pelican Island campus.

That plan was blocked by a budget rider that requires Legislative Budget Board approval of any bridge to Pelican Island. While it doesn’t expressly stop the construction of a new bridge, officials on all sides agreed the rider blocked the bridge plan unless university officials relented.

Texas A&M officials have for years said they supported building a new bridge to Pelican Island, but one aligned that would route traffic, and hazardous materials, along a new road north of the campus.

A bridge such as university officials want would cost about $91 million at last count, about $14 million more than the city and county leaders could secure, officials have said.

City and county officials have said they were frustrated that the university hadn’t agreed to fund or help find the funding for that version of the bridge, and cited the money gap among the reasons for moving ahead with the cheaper bridge.

University officials had tried in numerous ways to secure the additional money, but had been blocked by spending rules and legislative appropriation protocols, Fossum said. They moved to block the cheaper bridge only as a last resort and believing there might still be a way to pay for the better bridge, he said.

The project is in limbo as officials on all sides try to find a plan that can pass muster.

The Texas Department of Transportation hasn’t made any commitments toward funding the project, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, who also took part in the meeting with the transportation department and the university, said he now understands that hazardous materials and industrial traffic are what’s at the center of the university’s concerns.

“Basically, the discussion is how do we advance the ball,” Clark said. “Several ideas were shared and we’re going to see if we can come up with some sort of resolution to get the project moving.”

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


(10) comments

Steve Fouga

I guess TAMUG's grievances, which I consider overwrought, are understandable if their purpose is to apply the same standards to roadways near the Mitchell Campus that are applied at every Texas A&M campus or facility, everywhere. Can anyone tell me if that's the case? The same standards are being applied in this situation, as are applied to every other roadway near a Texas A&M facility?

Gary Scoggin

At least A&M finally articulated a reason. First, I would ask those fabulous risk engineers at A&M’s Mary Kay O,Connor Institute for Process Safety for a technical quantitative evaluation of the risk here. Then look at mitigations to the risk if warranted. Mitigation could include rerouting the road but there may be other measures. The MKO’C folks are among the best in the world at this sort of thing and they are part of the A&M system. They do this type of analysis every single day. If a more expensive solution is necessary due to hazardous materials, then a policy choice needs to happen, perhaps including a fee or toll for the trucks carrying the materials which are driving the costs up. We need science and creative thinking to prevail here.

Ray Taft

Really? Texas A&M University at Galveston doesn’t oppose a bridge, yet Texas A&M secretly got the legislature to block it all because they had secret fears? After all the fuss they caused by getting the bridge blocked - numerous TDN editorials and articles, much consternation by county officials, and all the other groups connected to a new bridge - Texas A&M now reveals they were afraid of hazardous material. Apparently, Texas A&M officials are like little children that sulk instead of letting everyone know about their concerns from the beginning. The obvious solution now is to remove all the little children in charge of Texas A&M and replace them with adults. Then everyone can get together like grownups and discuss the new bridge.

David Smith

So .. the same university thats paying a football coach 75 MILLION Dollars wants to contribute nothing to enhance its Galveston campus.. but wants to tell everybody else about how the upgrade of the Pelican Island bridheshould be done... Meanwhile .. the largest landowner on Pelican Island ( and the one who stands to make the most off of the upgrade ) is as quiet as a mouse in a Monday morning Church

Sharon Kirkpatrick

I’ve followed the issues and the concerns for the A&M students safety, for which I have the utmost respect. What I’m having an issue with, is the construction of a dorm 60 feet from a hazardous traffic route. The road was there when they built the dorm, and now they are concerned. This was a hazardous material route long before the campus, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Now you have acknowledged a serious threat to the students are you going to close the dorm to protect them while this matter is resolved? AGGIES you have a serious liability problem!

Jonathan Welch

"What I'm having an issue with, is the construction of a dorm 60 feet from a hazardous traffic route. The road was there when they built the dorm, and now they are concerned"......... Ding, Ding, Ding. We have a winner. My thoughts exactly.

David Schuler

I don't for a femtosecond believe TAMUG 'tried' to find funding ("Do, or Do Not; there is no Try"). If they had, and had come clean about their lack of success, their reputation would be intact. Instead, all this new hoopla about hazardous chemicals is an after-the-fact attempt at spin on the legislative IED they detonated - and hoped no one would notice. The TAMU Galveston campus is located on the front door step to a potentially huge industrial area - and has been for years. The right thing for them to have done over those years was to act as a catalyst for a completely new bridge that safely bypassed the entire campus. Instead, they've lived with their head in the sand, and now all of sudden, years of inaction have come home to roost.

James Lippert

Elitist aggies. Got called out for halting construction on bridge till their whims were met. Now following the elitist play book to the letter, they move to blame someone else. Sad If a&m wants that bridge built to their specs, let a&m pony up the difference.

Don Schlessinger

I hope islander homeowners vote NO for a bridge of any kind unless Houston pays it's fair share.

Miceal O'Laochdha

If hazardous materials are at the center of TAMUG's concerns, why are they not at the center of Galveston's concerns? Those trucks passing by TAMUG do not helicopter in and out. They drive across the Causeway, along Broadway and 51st St., or along Harborside Drive. No problems with them anywhere else. This seemingly plausible concern is really just smoke and mirrors. All the maritime cadets at the school are being TRAINED for careers dealing with hazardous materials on ships and in shipyards. That is where those trucks are going, to the maritime businesses on Pelican Island.

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