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Galveston Causeway Bridge – 100 Years Ago

February 3, 2012

I recently posted about the Galveston Causeway lift bridge replacement project, where the current 100′ long span will be replaced with a new 300′ long vertical lift bridge. The target date for installation of the new bridge is Feb. 14, 2012. I hope to get some pictures of this process, as it isn’t every day that new lift bridges are installed. Meanwhile, let’s look at some images of the Galveston Causeway from back in the day.

Originally, each of the three  railroads into Galveston had its own bridge. The 1900 hurricane destroyed two of these bridges, and damaging the Santa Fe’s bridge.  After the storm, the railroads agreed to pool resources, rebuild the Santa Fe’s bridge, and share the one bridge.

This is the original Santa Fe bridge, post 1900.

The all wood structure would be closed from time to time due to occasional fire / weather damage. As it was a critical connection to the mainland, the Texas Railroad Commission ordered the railroads to build a fire-proof causeway.

Construction began in 1909, with the new causeway opening for traffic on May 12, 1912. It had two tracks for the railroads, one track for an interurban train, and a 19′ wide brick roadway for automobiles. Additionally, a 30″ water line, providing fresh water to Galveston, also used the new causeway.

Opening day festivities for the new Galveston Causeway on May 12, 1912.

Opening day festivities for the new Galveston Causeway on May 12, 1912.

The Galveston Causeway originally had three tracks and a highway.

The causeway consisted of 28 70' long reinforced concrete arches.

A 100' long bascule lift bridge allowed passage of marine traffic.

The original steel bridge had deteriorated to the point that it was replaced in 1989 with a new bridge, but still only 100′ long. The original 1909 design was based on single barge tows, with barges being 35′ wide back then.  Barges are now up to 108′ wide and multiple tows are the norm, ranging up to 1,180′ long. Needless to say, this bridge was quite a bottleneck for marine traffic.

In 2001, the Coast Guard deemed the bridge an “unreasonable obstacle to navigation” and ordered the bridge’s owner, Galveston County, to alter the causeway providing a 300′ wide opening and 73′ vertical clearance. (The county owns the bridge, but BNSF operates the bridge under a 999 year lease. ) Funding for the $68 million project was not available until the 2009 economic stimulus package.

This image shows the current bridge, along with the I-45 causeway in the background. Note the guide path that was installed to keep marine traffic on the “straight and narrow” path.

For more information about this project, click here for an interesting Coast Guard PDF presentation about the new bridge. It has some good aerial photos. Click here for a detailed history of the causeway along with some great historical images. Click here to see my original post about the new bridge.

I’ll have more to post about this project soon.



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