Even before the partial collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway in 2001 cut off all overland access to South Padre Island, residents and officials already were clamoring for a second causeway. Two decades later, even in light of that tragedy, we’re no closer to that bridge than we were back then. Meanwhile, our growing population and tourism have only made congestion on the single bridge worse every year.
Elon Musk, who’s best known in the Rio Grande Valley for the SpaceX rocket facility at Boca Chica Beach, has offered another option.
One of Musk’s many endeavors is the Boring Company, a high-tech and relatively high-speed drilling operation. Musk recently talked to county officials about drilling a tunnel from the north end of Boca Chica Beach to the south end of South Padre Island.
The officials weren’t very receptive, understandably so. The cost of such a tunnel would be high, especially for the limited scope of the proposed route. For the came cost the county might be able to build a second road north of the Boca Chica Highway, although existing estuaries and sensitive wildlife habitat could complicate such efforts.
Musk’s proposal certainly is self-serving. Many people have complained about the road closures that SpaceX tests and launches require, as they cut off access to Boca Chica Beach, the jetties and other popular fishing and camping spots. Just a dozen such closures were approved per year, but the facility’s growth means those launches will be more frequent in the future. Musk’s offer would link Boca Chica to the island, during the closures. However, residents would have to drive over the causeway, then to and through the tunnel.
Such a tunnel is a challenge, but Musk has proven he’s up to such tasks. Dozens of underwater tunnels already exist, both for rail and autos, and many are much deeper and longer than the local idea.
Still, logistical issues must be considered. The tunnel would cross the Brownsville Ship Channel and thus would have to drop deep enough to keep the channel open. The cut currently is 42 feet deep, but the Brownsville Navigation District already plans to deepen it to at least 52 feet. Musk would have to accommodate such plans, and the tunnel’s placement could affect the port’s ability to conduct further dredging in the future.
Musk’s current proposal needs a lot of thought, and many questions need to be answered. The idea, however, brings other possibilities to mind.
What if, instead of a second causeway, a tunnel is carved at the northern part of the island? Whether it’s a common roadway for vehicles or part of yet another Musk endeavor — a Hyperloop subway system — it could increase access to the island, with a much smaller impact on the area’s sensitive and popular natural features.
That might not be Musk’s current vision, but once bags of dreams are opened, there’s no telling what ideas might spill out.
Officials and investors surely can consider the possibilities raised by the tunnel proposal. Whether the original plan is best or it inspires even grander ideas, it’s certainly worth a thought.