Second causeway construction for South Padre Island won’t start for years

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The Queen Isabella Causeway is seen in September 2022. TxDOT announced that construction on a second causeway won’t start before 2029. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Assuming environmental clearance for a second causeway to South Padre Island comes through as anticipated in summer 2026, construction wouldn’t begin for another three to five years.

In a project update, Texas Department of Transportation Pharr District Engineer Pete Alvarez said the second causeway, which TxDOT has named S.H. 104, will have to go through the design phase first, but only if the project makes it through the environmental review phase, during which TxDOT will work with various “resource agencies,” including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, he said.

“It is an environmentally challenging project,” Alvarez said. “It’s an environmentally sensitive area.”

The new causeway itself would be roughly eight miles long, with a total project length of 11 miles, he said. The eastern terminus would connect with South Padre Island three or four miles north of the existing causeway, north of the South Padre Island Convention Center, while the western terminus would reach the mainland three or four miles north of S.H. 100 and the Bayview area, Alvarez said.

The price tag for the project, which TxDOT added to the state highway system in December, is estimated at between $700 million and $1 billion, he said.

“Now that it is on-system this project will qualify for additional funding,” Alvarez said. “This project has been in the works for many, many years. We’re very pleased to partner up with Cameron County, the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority and South Padre Island to deliver this project.”

Currently the only road access to the Island is via the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway, which opened in 1974. In the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2001, a barge struck the span, causing two sections to plunge into the water below and resulting in the deaths of eight people.

Talk of a second Island access has been going on for decades, though a formal effort began in 2008 when CCRMA began seeking public input on the project’s “need and purpose.” Progress was delayed multiple times before TxDOT assumed responsibility for it last year.

Alvarez said the second access would enhance safety by providing an alternate hurricane evacuation route, and by affording easier access to the Island by emergency vehicles. The second causeway would also ease traffic congestion, which become particularly intense during peak weekends such as spring break, Santa Semana and Memorial Day weekend, he said.

“There’s always a lot of traffic that visits the Island,” Alvarez said. “This project will help access the Island much easier.”

County leaders have touted the economic development opportunities they say would come with a second access in the form of expansion of business to the currently undeveloped north part of the Island.

“When all is said and done the region will benefit,” Alvarez said.

Another public meeting or meetings — possibly a public hearing — will be scheduled and announced as the environmental review proceeds in order to solicit further public comment, he said. At that time, TxDOT will provide information on the right-of-way acquisition process and how property owners can contact the project’s right-of-way agent, Alvarez said.