Bridge between Galveston and Pelican Island remains closed after barge crash

Workers survey the site where a barge crashed into the Pelican Island Bridge, Wednesday, May 15, 2024, in Galveston, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Associated Press

GALVESTON, Texas The bridge connecting Galveston to Pelican Island remained closed Thursday after a barge crashed into a pillar supporting the span, causing it to partially collapse, and a university urged staff and faculty to leave its campus there.

The accident happened Wednesday morning when a tugboat pushing two fuel barges lost control of them and one hit the structure, said David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District. The bridge provided the only road access between Galveston and the small island.

Oil leaking from the barge led to the closure of about 6.5 miles of the waterway. The barge, owned by Martin Petroleum, has a 30,000-gallon capacity, but officials have not said how much leaked into the bay.

The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to questions Thursday morning regarding the status of the oil spill.

Meanwhile, the barge remained beside the bridge, weighed in place by debris including rail lines that fell onto the vessel when the crash happened.

Texas A&M University at Galveston recommended temporarily vacating the island.

“Given the rapidly changing conditions and uncertainty regarding the outage of the Pelican Island Bridge, the Galveston Campus administration will be relocating all Texas A&M Pelican Island residents,” through at least Sunday, it said in a statement late Wednesday.

Fewer than 200 people related to the school were on the island when the barge hit the bridge, according to the school.

Spokesperson Shantelle Patterson-Swanson said the university would provide transportation and cover the housing costs of those who choose to leave, but underlined that the school has not issued a mandatory evacuation.

Aside from the environmental impact of the oil spill, the region is unlikely to see large economic disruption as a result of the accident, said Marcia Burns, a maritime transportation expert at the University of Houston

The affected area is miles from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which sees frequent barge traffic, and the Houston Ship Channel, a large shipping channel for ocean-going vessels.

The accident came weeks after a cargo ship crashed into a support column of the Francis Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, killing six construction workers.