Texas A&M University at Galveston officials aren’t wrong in wanting a Pelican Island bridge design that routes industrial traffic around the growing campus.
They’re looking to the future and looking out for their students, faculty and staff, which they should do.
What is questionable, is the university’s disinclination to invest some money toward achieving that desired design, which seems to be a recent phenomenon.
Five or so years ago, when this round of talking about a new bridge began, the various parties involved seemed to be in agreement about both those things — the road alignment around, rather than through, the campus and that the university would be among the organizations contributing the millions of dollars needed to build the bridge.
None of that is certain now.
Galveston County, which several years ago stepped into to lead the replacement effort, and the city of Galveston are pursuing a version of the bridge that would follow the existing alignment, which would send traffic coming off the span through the campus, as is the case now.
County and city leaders prefer that option because it’s cheaper, which, they argue, means more likely to actually get done, and less likely to stall and die for lack of money.
The scaled-down bridge, the version taking traffic through the Pelican Island campus, was most recently estimated to cost $89.4 million, a bridge around the campus is estimated to cost $105.6 million, Galveston County Engineer Michael Shannon said.
Just as university officials are justified in their desire for the ideal bridge design, county and city leaders are justified in chasing the rabbit they can actually catch.
Those leaders are having to assemble money from various sources — $45 million from the state, $21 million from Houston-Galveston Area Council, $10 million from Galveston County Navigation District No. 1 and $5 million each from the county and city, which is $4 million short of the estimated cost of the cheap bridge.
They also are attempting to hit a moving target. The estimated cost of the cheap bridge had been about $77 million, but rose more than 15 percent to $89 million in a matter of months. The longer the project drags on, the more expensive it will become.
County Judge Mark Henry was blunt about the prospects of finding among local payers enough money to build the bridge the university wants.
“There’s no way for me to find another $14 million,” Henry said.
What we might be witnessing here is some political brinksmanship — the county and city steaming ahead with a design a major player opposes, and the university warning the wrong bridge might jeopardize the campus’ growth — each side waiting for the other to blink.
The danger is that this friction develops into an impasse that derails the whole project.
There’s some hope of avoiding that in an effort state Sen. Larry Taylor announced last week. Taylor’s office said he plans to file legislation seeking more state money for a new bridge that accommodates the university’s preference about an alignment around its campus.
If Taylor’s effort fails, however, the university must either resign itself to living with the bridge local payers can afford, or rethink its opposition to putting some money into the project.
• Michael A. Smith