For over a decade there has been speculation on the construction of a second access to South Padre Island. Some say it is a much needed addition after grim reminders.
South Padre Island City Councilman Dennis Stahl says, “Just after 9-11, there was a situation where a barge hit the bridge, our causeway, knocked it out and some people actually just went off the end of the causeway. Lost their lives. That was very tragic for the families involved that lost their lives. But is the only way on or off the island.”
Many say this tragic event back in September of 2001 sparked interest in the creation of the second access. Since then there has been many speculations about the future transpiration of south padre. But how real are these speculations?
Cameron County Judge and Executive Director of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority Pete Sepulveda Jr. sates, “Tx Dot had looked, had been looking at this as a second access from the mainland to evacuate South Padre Island in the event of an emergency. As you all know right now there is one way in and one way out. And providing a second access would definitely alleviate having to evacuate the island.”
At an estimated cost of 800 million dollars, this is said to be one of the largest projects in South Texas. Now it’s been 15 years in the making. What has taken so long and where are we in this project?
“We’re still in the environmental phase. We’re really deep into that process. We’ve been working with different cooperating agencies. From Highway inspection to the Texas Department of Transportation and we have submitted a final draft twice. Right now the agencies are reviewing this one last time. Right now we’re thinking that within the next six to nine months we can very well have a final decision on the environmental phase from the phase. That allows us to go to the next step which is to select the private developer start the design and the construction of the project,” says Sepulveda.
The process of choosing a developer is underway. Today, the CCRMA is urging private developers to attend upcoming meetings. The first meeting is scheduled for the first of March. And since the project has been in the works for some time now, what do we know about the upcoming project?
Stahl says, “So it will be much larger or longer that the bridge that comes across the causeway to South Padre Island now. It will be more, about three times as large than the current causeway. Basically the Laguna Vista area across to Holly Beach. But the permanent plans are to provide access to Harlingen, through Harlingen and basically in the long term plan… all the way to Edinburg.”
Construction of the second access would most likely create jobs. One thing residents do want to see is a reduction of traffic, especially, during peak holiday seasons.
“The traffic backs up for three or four miles. We’re always hopeful that during that period of time there is not an accident or a life saving event that has to happen because it is very difficult to get off the island and the main thing is safety,” says Stahl.
This project seems like it is a long way from here. The time frame is speculated to have construction start on 2017 and unveiling on 2020. One thing that seems to be holding this back is environmental clearance. Unfortunately this is not something within local agency’s control.
“The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority along with all the federal agencies and state agencies involved are just checking all the boxes. Many boxes have been checked they are getting close to bringing on someone to do development work,” says Stahl.
“We’re doing very well so well that TX Dot is starting the industry review meetings. This is one of two projects that we’re working on that the state legislature gave us authority to have a compressive development agreement. We want to start one on one meetings with those private developers as soon as February. It will certainly be the biggest in the whole south Texas,” adds Sepulveda.
But not everyone shares the excitement of the new causeway. In fact local residents have heard promises of a second access for so long that even those that do believe think the time frame may be unrealistic.
Local area resident and Point Isabelle schoolteacher Shane Williams says, “I’ve been around here for quite some time now. It’s been in the air for the past 10 or 12 years. It’s probably going to be in the air for another 10 or 12 years. It is a large, large project, multibillion dollar project. Finding the financing, can you pay for it with tolls , these are questions that far exceed the scope of my knowledge. It eventually will be here, I do believe that it eventually will come. I don’t know if it’s going to be here in the next ten years twenty years etc. that’s not my call but I do see another bridge coming.”