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Barge hits Texas bridge, spilling oil and trapping workers on island

GALVESTON, Texas (KIAH) – Workers in Galveston, Texas, said they were trapped after a barge hit the bridge connecting Pelican Island to the mainland.

The bridge that leads to Pelican Island, north of Galveston, was struck by the barge around 9:50 a.m. when a tugboat backing out of Texas International Terminals, a fuel storage operator located next to the bridge, lost control of two barges it was pushing, said David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District.

“The current was very bad, and the tide was high. He lost it,” Flores said.

One of the barges hit the bridge and two telephone poles, he said.

The tugboat was pushing what are called bunker barges, which are fuel barges for ships, Flores said. The collision sent oil spilling into the surrounding waters. The U.S. Coast Guard was determining the extent of the spill. They will also initiate the containment and cleanup process.

The bridge, which is the only way on and off Pelican Island, was closed off to all vehicular travel after the collision.

“The bridge will remain closed until it is deemed safe to use,” a statement posted on the City of Galveston’s Facebook page said.

One business, Baywatch Dolphin Tours, said they were seeking the university’s approval to shuttle people off the island and were planning how to provide a long-term service while bridge repairs are underway.

Members of the Galveston Saltwater Fishing group said that debris from the bridge fell onto the barge. There were no injuries reported.

The Texas Department of Transportation was en route Wednesday morning to inspect the roadways for damage.

Aerial video showed portions of a rail line that runs parallel to the bridge on top of the barge. Flores said the rail line only serves as protection for the structure and has never been used.

Pelican Island, which is connected to Galveston by the bridge, is home to a large shipyard, Texas A&M University of Galveston, and Seawolf Park, a former immigration station that now attracts tourists to its iconic fishing pier and decommissioned U.S. Navy vessels.

Opened in 1960, the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge was rated as “Poor” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2023 National Bridge Inventory released last June.

The overall rating of a bridge is based on whether the condition of any of its individual components — the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert, if present — is rated poor or below.

In the case of the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, inspectors rated the deck in “Satisfactory Condition,” the substructure in “Fair Condition” and the superstructure — or the component that absorbs the live traffic load — in “Poor Condition.”

The bridge has one main steel span that measures 164 feet (50 meters), and federal data shows it was last inspected in December 2021. However, it’s unclear from the data if a state inspection took place after the Federal Highway Administration compiled the data.

The bridge had an average daily traffic figure of about 9,100, according to a 2011 estimate.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Fox 8 News Channel

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