There’s no question Texas A&M University has power in this state. What is questionable is how it used its power this week to block funding for a new Pelican Island bridge.

Local leaders are right to be dismayed and irritated by the maneuver, which took everyone by surprise and threw a much-needed development into question.

Texas A&M University at Galveston officials have made it clear they opposed construction of a bridge aligned to continue routing industrial traffic through their Pelican Island campus, citing safety as the issue. And they’ve made it clear they’re not in the business of building roads.

When this week they convinced lawmakers to insert a rule, through a rider in a state budget bill, that would block the Texas Department of Transportation from funding a new bridge to Pelican Island unless the department received explicit permission from the Legislative Budget Board, university officials were wielding power in the most blatant and unseemly way.

That maneuver has put into question the future of the bridge that all sides, including university officials, agree needs to be built.

University students, staff and faculty use the bridge to get to the island campus and waterfront stewards believe a new, better bridge is key to sustaining and developing commerce on Pelican Island.

The existing two-lane bridge was built in 1957 and is considered to be obsolete. Officials estimate it has another 20 years or so before it’s no longer safe.

The university executed this blocking maneuver after failing to secure increased funding for the university’s preferred alignment for the bridge around its campus.

If it’s approved, the rule would put an obstacle in the way of the bridge plan that local leaders have focused on for the past eight months.

In September, citing a lack of money to build a $91 million, 75-foot tall bridge to the west of the existing bridge, Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough announced the city would instead come up with its own plan for a locally funded bridge, which would have delayed construction for years.

In March, the plan changed again, when the county announced it had secured $18 million from the Houston-Galveston Area Council. With that money, the county could build a $77 million bridge in the same place as the existing bridge.

The cheaper bridge could be built without a financial commitment from Texas A&M University, but would retain the old alignment.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, justifiably, said the budget rider made him feel as though he had wasted six years working on plans to develop the new bridge. The county has been talking in earnest about the project since 2013.

“They say they’re not in the business of building roads, but they sure seem to be in the business of dictating how roads get built,” Henry said. “They want to talk about their economic impact on the county, their economic impact is zero. They’re off the tax rolls, they don’t put a dollar into the county coffers. They’re asking county taxpayers to pay for a road because it’s more convenient for them.”

Yarbrough this week pointed out that while Texas A&M might not be able to directly help pay for the bridge, it could have used its political influence and institutional power to push more funding toward its preferred bridge.

University officials said they had no choice but to do what they did.

“We didn’t want to be here,” said Col. Mike Fossum, the chief operating officer of Texas A&M University of Galveston.

We shouldn’t be here.

Texas A&M University at Galveston should be working with local leaders, not against. Rather than scuttle the bridge, Texas A&M, which has proven with its latest move it can get the attention of lawmakers, should use its influence to ensure funding for a much-needed project that would benefit the Pelican Island campus and stakeholders in the county.

Texas A&M University officials should use their power for good and help make the Pelican Island bridge happen.

• Laura Elder

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

(17) comments

Kelly Naschke

Good article Laura. I agree.

Steve Fouga

This is just plain nuts.

Aren't Aggies smart enough to cross a heavily trafficked road with the aid of surely-to-be-installed traffic signals?

Alternatively, can't A&M reach the simple conclusion that a walkover would solve the whole problem?

Or if they're such big babies that they have to get their own way, don't they have enough money to pay for routing the bridge/roadway north of the campus?

What a load of hooey from the Aggies!

David Schuler

Texas A&M students and alumni everywhere should be ashamed of this backdoor move by TAMU regents to kill the new bridge. I really thought that Texas A&M leadership was better than this, but apparently they really are One Big Aggie Joke,

Richard Illyes

It would be helpful to know which lawmakers were involved.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Incredibly disappointing. TAMUG representatives have had a place at the table for every meeting, gathering, and discussion of this project. Where were the seats for the City, County and maritime parties of interest at the table when the decision to take this action was made? If these kids can't navigate their way across the street, I shudder to think how they will navigate ships and keep their plants on the line when they graduate. Maybe TAMUG should be paying to have their mothers help them get to class.

Bailey Jones

This is disappointing, and doesn't make much sense. I encourage TAMUG to write their own editorial and present their arguments in a way that puts them in a better light.

Bill Cochrane

Even though it wasn’t brought up in the column, or by anyone else lately, I think the issue is really all about two things. 1. – Railroad. If the new bridge is built where the existing bridge is located the railroad would be a part of it. The University does not want a railroad going through the campus. But as mentioned above, a walkover bridge for students would solve that. 2. – A private entrance to the campus. If the new bridge was built away from the existing bridge, the University would have a private entrance for the next 20 years, and probably a lot longer since traffic surveys would show the bridge is actually in better shape because of reduced traffic.

James Lippert

Aggreed! The sad thing is that Elitists come in many forms. And unfortunately in Texas they frequently come in the form of graduates from Texas A&M. In my decades of business experience, the majority of individuals involved in "questionable activities" were from A&M. Have often wondered, if a poll was taken of college graduates currently residing in Huntsville, What would be the most frequently represented Alma Mata? My money is on A&M!

Don Schlessinger

You must not have had what it takes to be in the Corps and are still bitter.

David Schuler

Or thankful

Don Schlessinger

Indeed, but America is probably safer because he couldn't handle the challenge.

Gary Scoggin

Don, I think you just helped James make his point.

Jim Forsythe

What's the university's plan when the bridge is no longer safe.
At this time funding is in place. Twenty years from now, maybe not.
Build a toll bridge, so they can pay for it each time they cross over the bridge.

"The existing two-lane bridge was built in 1957 and is considered to be obsolete. Officials estimate it has another 20 years or so before it’s no longer safe."

Charlotte O'rourke

I’m disappointed in Texas A&Ms leadership's decision to be disruptive and a contributor to the problem instead of being part of the solution.

Can anyone answer these questions?

1). Why isn’t the bridge and road a state bridge/highway? Can it be designated as one?
2). Who currently maintains the Seawolf Parkway road through the university campus?

Don Schlessinger

[thumbup][thumbup]

Jim Forsythe

History: In 1954, taxpayers of Galveston voted approval of a $6 million bond issue for construction of a bridge to pelican Island. Galveston County Navigation District No. 1 was created to administer the bond issue and let the contracts for construction of the bridge.
The following was Posted August 14, 2017.
"The most recent initiative is being made by the Galveston County Commissioners Court which is working with the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) .
Three bridge options have been proposed:
Option 1 would run just to the east of the existing bridge along the same right of way. It’s the cheapest option, $65 million.
Option 2 would be built 60 feet west of the existing bridge and would alleviate traffic through part — but not all — of the Texas A&M campus. The estimated cost is $81 million.
Option 3 would loop to the west, require more right of way and a longer span. The estimated cost is $121 million. "
If Texas A&M wants Option 2 or Option 3 , they should pay the difference.

Charlotte O'rourke

Thanks for the history Jim.

One would think with a state university, 2 ports, other businesses, and residents and students on Pelican Island that the state would consider making it a state highway, but I don’t know the criteria the state uses to establish a road as a state responsibility.

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