Fuel barge crashes into Galveston bridge, spilling oil and causing ‘major disruption’ in road, water traffic

The only way off Pelican Island right now is by boat. Galveston County judge says fuel is still leaking and shipping is shut down for 6.5 miles getting in and out of the Port of Galveston

GALVESTON, Texas – A barge hit the Pelican Island Bridge Causeway in Galveston this morning, damaging the bridge, causing an oil spill and shutting off the only access on and off the island by car. It also shut down maritime traffic along the Intracoastal Waterway in and out of the Port of Galveston for more than 6 miles.

Structural engineers from the Texas Department of Transportation in Houston are assessing damage to help determine if the bridge is safe enough to open up any part to traffic.

Just before 10 Wednesday morning, the fuel barge lost control in the outgoing high tide and hit the bridge, according to David Flores, supervisor with Galveston Navigation District 1.

Steel iron beams and tons of cement was being fixed, according to Flores.

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No one was hurt.

About 200 people are stuck on Pelican Island, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry told KPRC 2′s Rilwan Balogun.

“If we can get everyone off, I do not anticipate an opportunity to return anytime soon,” Henry said. “We don’t anticipate anyone being stranded on Pelican Island for even overnight, much less an extended period of time.”

Between 20 and 25 vehicles are waiting at Pelican Bay to get off the island, and authorities are hoping to open the bridge up to let those folks out this evening.

Galveston officials also tell KPRC 2′s Assignments Editor Terrence Kelly the U.S. Coast Guard has been called to help with the oil spill. The barge holds 30,000 barrels, according to Judge Henry, but he said they don’t know how much fuel was on it, but it was still leaking Wednesday afternoon.

The barge is owned by Martin Petroleum and when it hit the bridge, it knocked out power temporarily. That has since been restored.

No cars are being allowed across the bridge and no boats or barges in the channel.

The Intracoastal Waterway from Mile Marker 350.5 to Mile Marker 357, approximately 6.5 miles, is shut off and a dozen different agencies are onsite.

“It is a significant impact and I can understand their [people’s] concerns. This will be a major disruption to commercial maritime traffic and pleasure,” Judge Henry said.

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Additionally, Texas A&M has canceled classes for the day, which roughly affected only 30 students because it’s the end of the semester. They’re opening their cafeteria for any students stuck there.

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Posted by Texas A&M University Galveston Campus on Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Judge Henry characterized this crash as significantly different from the Baltimore crash where a cargo ship took down the Key Bridge.

“The bridge did not structurally fail. While portions of the bridge did structurally fail, the entire bridge did not,” Henry said. “We did see pieces of the bridge laying on the bow of the barge, but the size and scope is dramatically different. It’s much, much smaller.”

The Pelican Island Causeway Bridge is a critical part of the one road leading to and from Pelican Island.

Over 2,000 people including faculty, staff and students at Texas A&M in Galveston depend on the bridge, according to the student newspaper.

It’s the last drawbridge of its kind in Texas, called a bascule bridge.

A worker operates the lift so boats and barges can pass through to get in and out of the Port of Galveston.

About the Authors

Historian, educator, writer, expert on "The Simpsons," amateur photographer, essayist, film & tv reviewer and race/religious identity scholar. Joined KPRC 2 in Spring 2024 but has been featured in various online newspapers and in the Journal of South Texas' Fall 2019 issue.

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”

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