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Galveston bridge reopens for evacuations after barge collision

GALVESTON, Texas (NewsNation) — A small island near Galveston, Texas, is now isolated from the mainland after a barge rammed into a bridge Wednesday, causing cleanup efforts and uncertainty.

The Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, the sole access point from Galveston to Pelican Island, sustained a partial collapse and the barge leaked fuel into the bay.

Limited traffic is possible through one lane, allowing some residents and tourists to leave the island which is home to about 9,000 people. Texas A&M University at Galveston is also on the island.

What caused the barge to crash?

Authorities allowed vehicles on Wednesday afternoon to slowly exit over the bridge, with a brief pause in evacuations due to concerns about the bridge’s stability when authorities saw parts shifting.

A barge belonging to Martin Petroleum broke free from its tow and hit the bridge around 10 a.m. on Wednesday. A large piece of broken concrete and debris from the railroad hung over the side and on top of the barge that rammed into the passageway. Officials said the rail line only serves as protection for the structure and has never been used.

The barge was loaded with vacuum gas oil with a 30,000-gallon capacity and spilled an unknown amount into the water; crews are still working to determine the extent of the spill.

No injuries were reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the spill, while the cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Texas A&M University at Galveston suspends classes

The collision caused a temporary power outage on the island and disrupted road and water traffic.

Martin Petroleum said the barge’s captain has 20 years of experience. Although one crew member was knocked into the water during the incident, they were recovered.

With tourism season ramping up, some local businesses hope the closure doesn’t last long.

“Everybody’s coming in from out of town — different states, different countries. When you call them and say we’re not going to be able to leave because the Coast Guard just shut the waterway down they get really upset with you like it’s your fault. But it’s the money that we lose, said Derek Billiot, who owns Reel Men Fishing Charters in Galveston.

About 180 students and staff were on Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus when the incident occurred. The campus is closed on Thursday, with classes suspended. University officials advised students who left that they shouldn’t expect to return for a few days.

Bridge replacement planned for 2025

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.

The Texas Department of Transportation had been scheduled in the summer of 2025 to begin constructing a project to replace the bridge with a new one. The project was estimated to cost $194 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.