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Saturday, November 2, 2002

Bolivar bridge might get Houston help

By the Associated Press

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) - Galveston's neighbors to the north might come to the rescue in the island's long pursuit of a bridge connecting the seaside city to Bolivar Peninsula.

If the attorney general's office lets it, the Harris County Toll Road Authority wants to help make the bridge across the mouth of Galveston Bay a reality.

The hangup for the estimated $211 million span has been Galveston's inability to match state and federal money for the bridge, which would replace the romantic but congested ferry service operated for free by the Texas Department of Transportation.

The cost estimate is for a span from Point Bolivar to Pelican Island, which lies just north of the city's northern shore.

Norm Wigington, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, told The Galveston County Daily News another bridge at additional cost would have to be built to link Pelican Island to Interstate 45.

The Harris County attorney's office last month asked the attorney general's office for an opinion on whether the toll road authority could contribute to a project outside its jurisdiction.

"The director of the Harris County Toll Road Authority has advised that the project would allow traffic to Galveston from the east to avoid Interstate 10 and Harris County, lessen the burden on Harris County's infrastructure, and contribute to air quality," assistant county attorney Don C. Whitley wrote.

Money spent annually on the ferry could be diverted for transportation needs in Harris County, Whitley wrote. The attorney general's office has until March 16 to decide, meaning the decision could come from one of the contenders for outgoing Attorney General John Cornyn's office.

If the attorney general issues a dissenting opinion, toll road authority spokeswoman Patricia Freise said the agency would seek a change in legislation to allow the authority to become part of the bridge project.

Galveston County leaders already have signed off on the toll road authority's proposal. The bridge proposal still would need to pass a financial feasibility study to ensure it could pay for itself.

"The systems here in Harris County support themselves through revenues," Freise said. "It's my understanding this bridge will be built as a user-supported facility as well."

The authority operates the Sam Houston Tollway around the edges of Houston, the Hardy Toll Road connecting the central city to northern suburbs and a toll bridge across the Houston Ship Channel.

Galveston County Commissioner Eddie Barr said such a bridge would make Bolivar Peninsula more economically viable.

"I think it's great," he said. "Any way it can happen is good."

In the past, the Port of Houston Authority has opposed a span, fearing interference with ship traffic. Bridge supporters say the bridge would be high enough to permit ships to pass below it and would not impinge on current anchorage areas.

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