State Sen. Larry Taylor’s office plans to file legislation this week seeking extra state funding for a new bridge to Pelican Island.
The legislation comes after Texas A&M University at Galveston officials spent last week lobbying the legislature for a bridge that goes around the campus after news broke that Galveston County and the city of Galveston were nearing a plan to build a new bridge that would continue to route traffic through the school’s campus.
The proposed legislation was announced during county commissioner’s workshop meeting Monday morning. Taylor’s office confirmed it was working on a budget item, but the details, including how much it would ask for, had not been finalized.
That news came just before commissioners learned that a new bridge would be more expensive than previously estimated.
The scaled-down bridge, the version taking traffic through the Pelican Island campus, is now estimated to cost $89 million, Galveston County Engineer Michael Shannon said.
It had previously been estimated at $77 million.
The bridge around the campus is now estimated to cost $105 million, up from a previously estimated $91 million, Shannon said.
The added costs were from normal inflation and cost escalations for construction projects, officials said. The previous estimates were based on 2018 costs.
While Friday was the deadline to file for bills and joint resolutions in the legislature, local officials said there was still a way for Taylor to introduce the bridge funding in Austin as a budget rider.
The news is the latest development of the will-they, won’t-they saga of the Pelican Island bridge, and if legislation is introduced, it could again mean that the city and county have to wait before coming out with a final plan for the bridge.
The county and city have worked on designing a replacement for the existing, rapidly deteriorating Pelican Island Bridge since 2012. Last week, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry announced he had reached a tentative agreement with the city of Galveston to get the project back underway.
Under the deal, the county would sign on as local sponsor of the bridge, which would open up the project to receive funding from the Texas Department of Transportation.
The plan would pay for a 75-foot-high span bridge that follows the current alignment of the existing Pelican Island Bridge. The existing bridge leads into the Seawolf Parkway, which bisects the Texas A&M campus.
University officials have long said they wanted a new bridge that leads to a new road north of the campus. That bridge would be more expensive.
In September, Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough announced the city would walk away from the proposal, in part because the project did not seem financially feasible. In the months since, the city and county have developed a cheaper plan, based on the current alignment.
County commissioners on Monday said that if legislation to fund the new bridge is filed, they would ask the Texas Department of Transportation to extend a deadline on $45 million in bridge funding until after the legislative session ends in May.
The transportation department had given local officials an April deadline to come to an agreement.
The potential state funding comes at the behest of Texas A&M University at Galveston officials, who are adamant they don’t want a new bridge going through the school’s campus.
To date, the university has not committed any money to the bridge project. During Monday’s workshop meeting, Col. Mike Fossum, CEO of the university, told commissioners he had spent the last week meeting with lawmakers about the school’s need for the bridge.
Lawmakers had been lukewarm to the idea of allocating money to the university for a road project, he said.
“This is a collision between transportation and higher education, it makes them flinch a little bit,” Fossum said.
Placement of the bridge could jeopardize the campus’ growth, Fossum said. Texas A&M University has invested $244 million in capital projects at the Galveston campus since 2010, and has plans to invest another $181 million by the end of 2020.
What comes after that is still up in the air, Fossum said.
“The decision on the road, the future routing of the road has us at a standstill,” Fossum said.
Henry said he was sympathetic to Fossum’s position, but was not willing to commit more county money to pay for a more expensive version of the bridge.
“There’s no way for me to find another $14 million,” Henry said.