FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 1, 2009
The status of our South Padre Island and Port Isabel communities recently ascended higher through two milestone events.
We celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge with a ceremony on the Port Isabel side of the causeway, and an hour later that same Sept. 26 morning, we inaugurated the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.
Both are testaments not only to the area's rapid growth, but to the communities efforts to accommodate that growth.
Just as it was 35 years ago in 1974, the Queen Isabella Bridge continues to connect the two great communities of Port Isabel and SPI, and will continue to play a significant role in the economies of both areas.
The first causeway completed in 1954 officially opened the island to tourism, but the traffic from the rapid prosperity and development of SPI and Port Isabel quickly outgrew the two-lane bridge. Today's four-lane bridge opened in 1974.
The bridge has contributed to a $185 million increase in assessed taxable property value for Port Isabel. No one could have imagined in 1974 that the $12 million it cost to build the bridge would ignite such an economic boom valued at over 12 times its original investment.
It is also estimated that 690,000 vehicles travel to and from the island every month. That's a grand total of 8.3 million vehicles annually. What will that number be in say 10 to 20 years?
Enter the SPI Birding Center, which will attract hundreds more tourists to the area.
It is time to seriously evaluate the construction of a second bridge to handle the ever growing traffic, especially from the increasing nature enthusiasts and bird watchers that our state-of-the-art birding center is already attracting.
At the Queen Isabella event, we also paid tribute to the eight victims who lost their lives Sept. 15, 2001, when four barges and a tug boat struck the bridge causing it to collapse. We were reminded of the spirit of friendship and compassion that prevailed between these two communities and the dozens of volunteers who offered assistance from throughout the area and state.
In honor of the victims and their families, I passed a bill in 2003 renaming the bridge the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge.
But we cannot forget that the collapse had a significant economic impact on the region, since the causeway is the only connecting road between the island and mainland.
While ferries and acts of kindness mingled with patience got us across the Laguna Madre and through the ordeal, it wasn't until Nov. 21 that the bridge became travelable again.
That same sense of friendship and cooperation can get us through the difficult process of deciding on a location for a second causeway.
The SPI Birding and Nature Center stands as a monument of what a community can do to pull together its resources and acquire legislative funds--$1 million from state appropriations--to build a facility to educate and serve the locals and attract visitors from throughout the country.
Already 200,000 ecotourists visit the Rio Grande Valley annually, and now more will cross the Queen Isabella to visit the Center.
We additionally have beautiful beaches, fine hotels and restaurants and many other attractions, but with only one bridge, traffic congestion will only increase
For now, congratulations to both of these communities who have made great economic and conservation strides, and who continue seeking the best for our residents and visitors.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.