The Galveston Economic Development Partnership was right to form a task force to study the feasibility of what advocates are calling a “land bridge” to Pelican Island.

The idea of a land bridge presents some problems and it surfaced relatively late in a process that already was behind and needed to pick up speed. One state-imposed deadline already had been missed and a second looms in June. Missing that one could cost the effort more than $40 million in federal funding.

The idea also raises many questions about costs and the environmental consequences.

Despite all that, the proposal offers one thing that none of the other options offers — a railroad link to Pelican Island.

That alone is reason enough that others working on the project — primarily the Galveston County Commissioners Court — shouldn’t reject the idea out of hand.

In fact, the most urgent and important question among all the questions is whether we can afford to invest many millions of dollars in a project that doesn’t provide a railroad connection to Pelican Island.

What are the chances that an opportunity to add rail later will ever arise?

Todd Sullivan, who heads the partnership’s Maritime Task Force, has led calls for a land bridge to replace the obsolete drawbridge connecting Galveston to Pelican Island.

Building a land bridge would mean creating a strip of land, similar to a jetty, extending all the way across the west end of the Galveston Ship Channel to Pelican Island as a foundation for a road and a railway, Sullivan said.

That method would make a more or less level crossing that could accommodate rail cars, while the three other options being considered envision a sloping bridge that could only accommodate road vehicles.

Proponents argue that a rail connection would open Pelican Island to all sorts of industrial development and might even allow the Port of Galveston to move some of its cargo operations off the main island and allow more development of tourism and residential facilities along the waterfront.

They also argue that closing one end of the harbor would reduce the costs of dredging the harbor by as much as 90 percent. But plugging the west end of the Galveston Ship Channel with a levee would also have some downsides, others argue.

The biggest initial strike against the land bridge, however, is the cost, which has been estimated at $286 million, while costs of the fly-over bridges range from $63 million to $121 million.

That cost estimate is the first thing the task force should address because it’s unclear why, and hard to believe that, building bridges atop a jetty would be $165 million to $220 million more expensive than a fly-over bridge.

That number — $286 million — for an at-grade bridge seems especially high given that the Galveston Causeway cost only $135 million to build.

Galveston County officials, including County Judge Mark Henry, have said the land bridge proposal is too expensive and would take too long to get in order.

“I don’t know where the funding is going to come from unless someone gives us $210 million,” Henry told The Daily News. “Even then, I still don’t know that we can make that time frame.”

That opinion is understandable. Commissioners want to get a plan together and underway and they don’t want to risk missing a June deadline and losing $45 million in federal money the Texas Department of Transportation has pledged.

We have to agree with Jeff Sjostrom, president of the partnership, however, that the idea deserves some consideration and discussion.

“We’ve basically said, ‘let’s take the next 90 days and vet this and see what we come back with,’” Sjostrom said.

The onus is on the task force, however. It must get the main questions answered, especially the question about the cost, no later than March.

There’s just no more time.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206;


(11) comments

Jeff Kilgore

Has industrial financing for the rr portion been explored

Gary Miller

How much of the total will be the railroad share? If rail access is desired then rail access should be financed by the rail industry.

Kelly Naschke

The railroad finances tracks just like you finance the roads you drive on Gary. We call it taxes. Rail to Pelican Island stands to exponentially benefit from our recent economic gains and growth we are currently experiencing. Billions in investment are underway 30 minutes away in the Bayport complex. It’s a no brainer.

Steve Fouga

I'm against any proposal that blocks the west end of the channel, turning the harbor into a cesspool.

Why can't the "land bridge" have a flow-through section to allow tidal flow and small boat traffic between the harbor and Galveston Bay? If "fly-over" is cheaper, why not make the whole thing fly-over, but at-grade rather than tall? Avoiding dredging is not a good enough reason to block the west end of the channel.

Sounds like there are unexplored options that might be better than the ones on the table. [wink]

Charlotte O'rourke

The path of the land bridge with rail and vehicular option looks a little different than the map/path provided to the port. See above link. Not sure why it is different?

I agree with the newspaper on the point of cost. It seems strange a land bridge costs so much more than our causeways and projected flyover bridges.

I am glad that they are considering rail options in planning ... they need to address rail options/path before choosing an option for vehicular traffic because what good is the expense of a fly over vehicular bridge if later you decide on a rail bridge type that restricts water traffic?

One question I still have is why option 3 and 3A for vehicular fly over bridge has a path so far west .... instead of a path that is closer to the west side of pelican island and north of A&M campus ... closer to the land bridge path. One would think that would save money and totally eliminates impact to A&M campus.

This is one of the most important decisions in the development of Pelican Island, and an investment in our future.

Jim Forsythe

Galveston Railroad Lift Bridge which I could only find a estimated total cost of  $68 million. Why not build the same for the Pelican Island project.
As far as the Galveston Causeway type of bridge, do we need one that has that many lanes going to Pelican Island?
My thinking is , maybe only one Causeway for cars and trucks, at half the cost.
This plan would not require the closing the  west end of the channel

Brian Maxwell

That was just for the lift span. The entire bridge must be replaced for Pelican.

Steve Fouga

Well okay, but what about a short flyover with a lift span? In other words, something similar to what we have, but has rail.

Gary Miller

Rail service seems to do OK with the lift bridge in and out of Galveston. Why not a flyover for cars and trucks and a lift bridge for rail when the rail industry actually wants it? Are we talking about one train a day or one a week?

Charlotte O'rourke

The old 1912 causeway serves as the rail line to Galveston Island. The new lift was put in during the last decade.

Option 3 flyover with rail is shown with this editorial .... not the land bridge. The map doesn’t show if there would be a lift or its location in the rail portion, but does show removal on the old bridge. The land bridge option is in the link I provided above. None of the 3 options presented to Commissioners and printed in the paper showed plans for rail.

Rail needs to be discussed and planned for even if it is a secondary phase.

When completed this bridge project will have a long lifespan and have major impacts ... so the groups should plan quickly to meet deadlines and get it right for our economic growth.

It looks like the group has a lot of

Charlotte O'rourke

It looks like the planning group has a lot of hard work ahead. Thanks for your service on this important project.

Sorry I posted before finished ....

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