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CORPUS CHRISTI CALLER TIMES: Abbott: Harbor Bridge’s replacement will be ‘very special’

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Corpus Christi, TX, August 8, 2016 | comments

It's finally happening.

The long-awaited Harbor Bridge replacement project officially kicked off Monday with a ceremony that drew state and federal officials, who praised it as a kickstarter for the Coastal Bend's economy.

Speaking amid 98-degree heat, Gov. Greg Abbott congratulated local and state leaders for working together to make the project a reality.

Abbott joined U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez and other local and state leaders as they plunged gold-plated shovels into a trough of dirt to mark the effort's symbolic start.

The event was Abbott's first public appearance since news reports said he was badly burned while on vacation in mid-July in Wyoming.

"This current bridge ... carries many cherished memories. It would take a very special bridge to replace the current bridge," said Abbott, waving his arm toward the metal bridge overhead. "I can assure you the new bridge is going to be very special."

More than 300 people attended the ground breaking ceremony outside the Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz International Center. Security was tight for the event, with sharpshooters stationed on rooftops.

The planned six-lane replacement bridge is slated to be completed in 2021 for about $930 million. Earlier estimates suggested the project would cost $898 million. The project is being funded through a combination of local, state and federal sources, and includes a 25-year maintenance agreement with the developer, Flatiron/Dragados LLC.

Cornyn, a member of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees ports and infrastructure nationally, said the new bridge will open bigger and better trade opportunities for Texas. Smoothing the way goods get from one place to another is key to making them more affordable for consumers.

"It's a way ... to grow the economy overall and improve people's lives," said Cornyn, R-Texas.

The Harbor Bridge is among the first things motorists see as they enter the city from the north, and has become the very calling card of Corpus Christi and its skyline. Roughly 60,000 vehicles travel each day across the bridge, which connects Corpus Christi's Northside with attractions on North Beach, such as the Lexington Museum on the Bay and the Texas State Aquarium.

With its distinctive curvy Napoleon-hat design, the bridge was considered state of the art and a marvel of engineering when it was built in the 1950s to replace a wooden drawbridge.

Today, it's a relic.

The Texas Department of Transportation has said the bridge needs to be replaced for safety reasons.

Talk of building a new span has heated up in recent years with growth in the Eagle Ford Shale energy play and the completion in June of the Panama Canal expansion.

Farenthold praised the bridge replacement project, and said a new bridge is just a first step to shoring up the region's economic potential.

Farenthold, a Republican from Corpus Christi, worked recently with Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar to update the language in the Fiscal Year 2017 House Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. Their hope is to find money for efforts to deepen and widen the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

Although Congress authorized the channel improvement project in 2007 and 2014, the Port of Corpus Christi does not have the estimated $300 million needed to do the work.

"This is just the beginning of the work we need to do," Farenthold said.

 

The project also includes:

Construction of a new interchange at Interstate 37, U.S. Highway 181 and State Highway 286;

Reconstruction of about 1.6 miles of I-37; and

Rebuilding about 1 mile of State Highway 286.

The Harbor Bridge will be demolished after the replacement span is completed.

Some construction, such as the movement of heavy equipment, should be noticeable by the end of this year or early 2017, said Rickey Dailey, a transportation department spokesman. Much of the activity will be where the bridge's support towers will be located, on the north and south side of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

The new cable-stayed replacement span will feature a 205-foot clearance point, which will enable larger cargo vessels to pass.

Its current clearance is 138 feet.

Handysize and supramax vessels, which are capable of carrying up to 30,000 tons and 60,000 tons respectively, most commonly visit the port. The bridge's shallow clearance prevents larger "mini" capesize vessels from entering the ship channel.

 

"It's progress," state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, said of the project. "This shows what can be done when we all work together toward a goal. This is something that will benefit the Coastal Bend for generations to come."

What they're saying

Other local dignitaries praised the Harbor Bridge replacement project during a ground breaking ceremony on Monday:

"The Harbor Bridge, as well as the enormous economic opportunities it will bring to the Coastal Bend, would have remained an improbable dream were it not for the bipartisan cooperation and dedication of our community leaders, local public officials, TxDOT, and the private sector. I am honored to represent the people of Corpus Christi and to be a part of this historic project and this historic day."

— Texas State Sen. Juan Hinojosa

 

"Ingenuity, foresight, and progress are bridged together with collaboration and perseverance. The new Harbor Bridge will be an engineering marvel that will help bring great prosperity to the Coastal Bend for years to come."

— Texas State Rep. Abel Herrero

 

"This project is yet another example of how South Texas is leading the way in investment and economic development in Texas. I am proud to have worked with TXDOT, and our South Texas communities to move this project forward."

— Texas State Rep. J.M. Lozano

 

"For many generations to come, this day will be remembered as the beginning of one of the most significant undertakings in all of South Texas, the State of Texas, and even the nation. Such magnificent teamwork and interagency cooperation has in no doubt changed the face of South Texas to provide an economically connected Coastal Bend that bridges relationships between all of us with the international shipping industry and the rest of Texas and the nation."

— Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal

 

"The new Harbor Bridge is a result of a unified vision that will forever change our positive trajectory in the global economy. Many collaborations made the impossible possible."

— Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez

 

"The groundbreaking of the new Harbor Bridge marks the beginning of a new milestone for the Port and the Coastal Bend region. The new bridge will enhance the port's competitiveness in global trade. We look forward to continue working together with TxDOT and Flatiron/Dragados to assure the success of the project."

— Port Corpus Christi Commission Chairman Charles W. Zahn Jr.

 

"The new Harbor Bridge will stand for decades as a proud tribute to what local communities can accomplish through cooperation and dedication."

— TxDOT Corpus Christi District Engineer Chris Caron

By the numbers

$930 million Estimated construction costs

60,000 Vehicles that travel the bridge each day

1,655 Distance, in feet, across the new bridge at its main span

538 Height, in feet, of the new bridge's two main towers

138 Clearance height, in feet, of Harbor Bridge

205 Clearance height, in feet, of new span

 

HARBOR BRIDGE REPLACEMENT PROJECT TIMELINE

Aug. 8: Ground breaking, construction of Interstate 37 interchange gets underway

2016-2020: Construction continues

Early spring 2020: Construction of Crosstown Expressway/I-37 starts

Late spring 2020: Construction of new bridge complete, demolition of old Harbor Bridge begins

Spring 2021: Demolition of old Harbor Bridge complete

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