Motorists heading to Galveston for Mother's Day weekend meet huge traffic delays

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- On Friday Texas Department of Transportation closed lanes going southbound and northbound on Interstate 45 throughout Mother's Day weekend.

That didn't sit well with city officials, tourism businesses, or event planners in the Galveston.

Galveston Mayor Craig Brown said he and others pleaded with TxDOT to hold off so that motorists and tourism-based officials on the island could better plan, but the transportation agency insisted the lane closures were the better plan.

While saying he understands the reasoning behind the state transportation agency's decision to close inbound and outbound lanes of I-45 for roadwork over the weekend, Brown expressed the frustrations he and visitors all had about the lane closures and subsequent traffic jams coming with little advance warning or planning.

Brown would have preferred a few days at minimum to promote the closure and inform residents and visitors what to do and events to possibly reschedule.

None was an option, according to Brown.

And since the roadway isn't in the city, Galveston was left at the mercy of the TxDOT decision to an abrupt lanes closure with less than 24 hours' notice for those headed to the island.

Motorists reported as much as a three-hour drive from La Marque to Galveston because of the southbound closures.

Officials expect a repeat northbound when visitors return from Galveston.

The move had to be made to expedite replacing a bridge built in the 1930s, TxDOT spokesman Danny Perez said.

Road engineers deemed the northbound bridge unsafe for heavy or overweight load traffic.

The transportation agency already stopped oversized load hauls over the bridge because of cracks found in the cross supports of the northbound bridge.
Millions of dollars in heavy equipment have been forced to remain at the Port of Galveston because of the damaged bridge. And there are more heavy loads bound by ship for the port.

So instead of risking a collapse, TxDOT decided to prep the southbound bridge be able to handle two-way traffic until the old northbound bridge is demolished and a new one built.

"To get traffic to the southbound bridge took some lane closures," Perez said.

The closure work should then allow traffic to flow from the northbound bridge to the southbound bridge. The plan is to make the southbound bridge into two-way traffic.

TxDOT officials admit the timing isn't the best given what is supposed to be a busy weekend on the island.

"The closure is necessary even on Mother's Day weekend because engineers found cracks in the beams that support the bridge," Perez said.

That means heavy, oversized load trucks can't cross the bridge which is just north of the George and Cynthia Mitchell Causeway.

"Several trucks are already stuck on the island at the Port of Galveston waiting until repairs can be made to get their loads on the road. Some of those loads have already been forced to wait since Thursday," Perez said.

More heavy loads are headed to Galveston by ship that will eventually need to be hauled northbound, according to Perez.

Perez said that closure is the first step in a three-phase project.

Within a few weeks, northbound and southbound traffic will have to run on the southbound bridge.

Then an emergency work order has been issued to demolish and then build a new northbound bridge. The timeline for that work has not been determined as of yet, Perez said.

TxDOT officials suggested motorists find alternate routes, which would not be an easy task.

The only alternate routes available are to come via Brazoria County through Surfside and take the San Luis Pass toll bridge to Galveston.

Or travel to the Bolivar Peninsula via Chambers County and take the ferry to the island.

Either way, waiting for traffic looks to be the best route.

Still, there were long lines at the homes, crowds were picking up at the island's Cinco de Mayo celebration and the beaches appeared to be as busy as usual for a Mother's Day weekend.

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