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May 16, 2024

Barge Collision Leads to Oil Spill and Bridge Collapse in Galveston, Texas

A disastrous incident unfolded in Galveston, Texas, as a barge collided with a bridge pillar, causing an oil spill and partial collapse of the structure. The collision occurred on Wednesday morning, leading to significant environmental and transportation concerns in the area.

The incident occurred around 9:50 a.m. when a tugboat lost control of two barges it was pushing near Texas International Terminals, a fuel storage operator adjacent to the bridge. The bridge, which connects Galveston to Pelican Island, home to Texas A&M University of Galveston and Seawolf Park, suffered damage as one of the barges struck a bridge pillar and two telephone poles.

David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District, described the challenging conditions during the accident, mentioning the strong current and high tide that contributed to the tugboat losing control.

Fortunately, there were no reported injuries among the bridge crew, although one person was knocked into the water and quickly rescued. The barge, owned by Martin Petroleum and carrying bunker fuel for ships, spilled oil into the bay, prompting cleanup efforts. The extent of the spill remains unclear, but approximately 6.5 miles of the waterway was shut down as a precaution.

The impact of the collision was not limited to environmental concerns; it also led to the partial collapse of the bridge, rendering Pelican Island inaccessible to car traffic. The collapsed rail line, although never used, added to the spectacle of the accident scene.

Engineers from the Texas Department of Transportation are en route to assess the damage to the bridge and determine when it will be safe for use. Meanwhile, businesses like Baywatch Dolphin Tours are exploring alternative transportation options, seeking approval to shuttle people off the island while repairs are underway.

The Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, opened in 1960, has been a crucial transportation link for the region. However, its condition had raised concerns prior to the incident. According to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2023 National Bridge Inventory, the bridge was rated as “Poor,” with the superstructure in particular in poor condition. Despite being last inspected in December 2021, questions remain about the timing of state inspections after the federal data was compiled.

With an average daily traffic figure of approximately 9,100, the closure of the bridge has significant implications for transportation in the area. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of infrastructure maintenance and the potential consequences of neglect.

Authorities are urging caution as the cleanup and repair efforts continue, emphasizing the need for thorough inspections and timely maintenance to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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