A 2nd Access to South Padre Island is a critical public safety project in Texas.
The island is one of the state’s most popular tourism destinations with nine million vehicles crossing the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge annually. As a result, South Padre Island needs a dependable and safe access to facilitate the influx and departure of visitors and residents and to ensure effective medical aid and rescue efforts during emergencies.
The City of South Padre Island, Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, in partnership with TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, is working on the SPI 2nd Access.
The 2nd Access Project to South Padre Island will involve a second crossing on a new location to the Island and provide a much-needed alternate route from the Island to the mainland. The project will include a bridge, approximately 8-miles long, as well as improvements to roadways on the mainland and the Island. The location is projected to be south of County Beach Access 5.
The Project consists of three major components: the mainland roadway, the Laguna Madre crossing bridge, and the Island roadway. The route under consideration includes a mainland roadway consisting of a four-lane road, crossing the Laguna Madre with about 8-miles of a four-lane bridge. The total length of the SPI 2nd Access Project is approximately 17.6 miles. The Final Environmental Impact Study is currently under development.
The current age of Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge has passed its effective lifespan of 40 years and now necessitates continual maintenance and renovation that often leaves only one lane open resulting in increased congestion and serious public safety and medical rescue issues.
In every instance of a bridge closure, the local community experiences tremendous public safety and medical rescue issues and faces a profound impact on the entire economy of the area. First responders and emergency personnel have to travel to and from the Island by ferry, delaying response time and wasting potentially life-saving minutes.
The most notable bridge closures include:
- 2001 Causeway Collapse: 8 Deaths, 3 Survivors, 3 months closed.
- 2013 TxDOT worker injured.
- August 2016 Crash-related death that necessitated the bridge to be closed. 2017 Anonymous threat that required the bridge to be closed.
- 2020 Anonymous bomb threat that required the bridge to be close.
- February – Power Outage that required the bridge to be closed.
- Multiple accidents have caused closures.
The Island has seen significant growth in traffic on the causeway since the bridge from Port Isabel to South Padre Island was constructed in 1974. A second bridge would bring numerous benefits, including:
- Increased State Sales, Alcohol, and HOT Taxes if more visitors can reach the Island safely and easily.
- Alleviate traffic which builds up into the neighboring communities for over 10 miles during peak seasons.
- Would facilitate a much needed evacuation route during emergencies, hurricanes, or other natural disasters.
It is currently estimated that it could take most of the day to evacuate the Island to higher ground during hurricane season. By not moving forward with the 2nd Access Project today, more is at risk, including:
- Increase of auto-accidents as people battle stop-and-go traffic.
- Decrease in the survival rate of patients being transported by ambulances during peak times.
- Jeopardizes the safety of residents and visitors.
- Decrease in the economy as visitors may not want to come back if faced with heavy traffic.
The project will cost approximately $500 Million. Federal and State funding is pending. $4 Million of local funds used to complete the Environmental Phase. 2nd Bridge Access project is anticipated to take approximately seven years to complete.
Where are we now?
The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority continues to increase project feasibility by driving down potential costs (initial and life cycle costs) and reducing the scope of environmental impacts. Also, determining the Value Engineering Study would be the most cost-efficient means to accomplish this. Through many meetings, the Texas Department of Transportation has sponsored the cost of the study and provided technical experts from other districts to participate.
In 2016, the recommendations to be pursued and developed which can result in more than $200 million in cost savings including a possible 80% reduction in impacts to seagrass and required mitigation.
The 2nd Access has recently been re-designated to a Non-Tolled project development strategy.
On behalf of your constituents, I urge the State to make the 2nd Access Project a priority, secure funding, and see this project move forward.
Editor’s Note: The above commentary was penned by South Padre Island Mayor Patrick McNulty. He produced a one-page flyer with the commentary for a recent visit by state lawmakers to SPI. The visit was part of the 2023 Valley Legislative Tour hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.
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