Barge Slams into Galveston, TX, Bridge, Triggers Partial Collapse, Oil Leak

May 16, 2024
Two uninjured tug crew members were rescued from the water.

John Wayne Ferguson

Houston Chronicle


May 15—The Pelican Island Bridge in Galveston was closed Wednesday after a passing barge struck one of its supports, causing significant damage, officials said.

The collision happened around 10 a.m, City of Galveston spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said. The lift bridge, which spans the west end of the Galveston Ship Channel, connected Galveston Island with Pelican Island, the home of Texas A&M University at Galveston. The collision also resulted in an oil spill, the city said in a news release. The Coast Guard is working to determine the extent of the spill and will contain it and clean it up, the city said.

No injuries were reported in connection to the barge strike.

In an alert to students and community members, Texas A&M said the bridge was closed to all traffic. The damage briefly knocked power out to the island, but it had been restored by 11 a.m. The bridge is the only way to drive off the dredge spoil island.

The city's emergency management office, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Texas Department of Transportation were all investigating the crash, Barnett said. The bridge is not a state bridge. It is maintained by Galveston County Navigational District No. 1.

David Flores, a navigation district bridge operator who was on the causeway when it was struck, said it appeared the barge struck the bridge after it was caught in the current and got away from a tug boat that was guiding it.

"I've been on the waterfront for 43 years and this is the worst accident I've seen," Flores said. "This is a pretty bad one."

Flores said a crane might be required to remove the barge from where it hit the bridge.

A U.S. Coastguard spokesman said the chemical spilled from the barge was vacuum gas oil, a base petroleum product. The spill caused the Coast Guard to close traffic in the Galveston Ship Channel and par of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Two crew members from the tug boat boat jumped or fell into the ship channel around the time of the collision, possibly to avoid the very large chunks of debris falling from the bridge, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said. The crew members were recovered safely from the water.

Photos from crash show a large chunk of concrete, bearing the remnants of a railway, sitting on top of the crashed barge. There is no active railway to Pelican Island.

Transportation department engineers were examining the bridge for damage, and were skeptical of being able to reopen it soon.

"I'd be shocked if they signed off and allowed it," Henry said of vehicle traffic being allowed to cross the bridge.

A Texas A&M spokesperson said there were a small number of faculty and staff working on the Pelican Island campus Wednesday, but most of the student body had already left for summer break.

The tug boat that was towing the barge was the LCPL Phillip C. George, an 81-foot vessel out of Beaumont owned by Martin Midstream Partnership Incorporated. The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. The barge was owned by Martin Petroleum, according to the county.

The 64-year-old bridge has long be a subject concern for Galveston leaders, who have spent a better part of a decade trying to find a solution to replace it. The bridge is at the end of its structural life, according to the state transportation department. Flores said Wednesday's barge strike was the second is less than a year, and that repairs had only recently been completed over the damage wrought by the last collision.

It was unclear Wednesday how many people were stuck on Pelican Island because of the bridge closure. Aside from the university's dorms, there is only one apartment building on the island. A number of industrial businesses also operate on Pelican Island. It is also home to Seawolf Park, a city park that houses a naval museum and popular fishing pier.

Around 1:30 p.m., Craig Marston, the general manager of Gulf Copper, one of Pelican Island's businesses, said he anticipated some traffic would be let off the island later in the day. Still, after last year's collision, Marston said he had developed a contingency plan to boat workers off the island, if necessary.

Work at Gulf Copper includes the ongoing restoration of the Battleship Texas. Marston said the business' work could be interrupted by an extended closure and the company had long hoped for progress on a replacement bridge.

"It would be an impact, definitely," Marston said. "I have workers, supplies being delivered. We very much would like for the bridge to be expedited."


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