RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – The finishing touches are being put on a new pelican “friendly” barrier along a coastal Valley highway. Richard Moore explains the new design will hopefully reduce hundreds of pelican deaths on the roadway.
Finally, after years of public outcry and more than 500 Brown pelican deaths, the Texas Department of Transportation is nearing completion of a new barrier on Highway 48 between Brownsville and Port Isabel.
Hopefully, the recently installed barrier, which will replace a solid concrete barrier, will lessen the terrible toll. The new design allows air to flow thru, which in computer models mitigated the deadly downdraft of air during strong north winds that forced pelicans onto the highway where they were killed by motorists.
Octavio Saenz, Texas Department of Transportation Public Information Officer, “One of the things that we found out is that it created a vortex that pushed the animals down onto the roadway. With the new model, with the new design, it is supposed to avoid that.”
Pelicans have been perishing on the stretch of highway along Gayman Channel during northers as they attempt to fly from feeding grounds to roosting islands in the Bahia Grande unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Since record keeping began in 2016, 485 pelicans have been killed and 250 rescued by volunteers.
The Bahia Grande project, which began several months ago, should be completed within the next two weeks.
“It is a project that extends approximately one mile across the Bahia Grande, price tag… $2.5 million.” Said Saenz.
While the hope is that the new barrier along the northern edge of the highway will reduce pelican fatalities, there is concern that the remaining interior solid concrete barrier separating traffic may contribute to the deadly downdraft. Thus far, the Texas Department of Transportation has no plans to replace the interior barrier or lower the speed limit.
The real test of the effectiveness of this new barrier will likely be this coming fall and early winter when brown pelicans are most numerous and the first strong northers arrive.