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Harbor Bridge groundbreaking officially begins construction process

High winds and searing heat welcomed Gov. Gregg Abbott and other dignitaries to Corpus Christi for the Harbor Bridge groundbreaking Aug. 8. The ceremonial lifting of shovelfuls of dirt took place at the Solomon P. Ortiz Center, officially beginning a five-year process to replace the city’s historic 54-year-old bridge.

Abbott spoke at the early afternoon event along with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Rep. Black Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi), state Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and state Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi).

Abbott lauded local leaders for their work making the bridge project happen and paid homage to the old bridge as it begins its final years of service.

“This bridge has done more than connect Nueces County with San Patricio County,” he said. “It’s been a gateway to playground beaches like Port Aransas, has served as a backdrop to Whataburger Field and the Corpus Christi Hooks. And this bridge has acceleratad economic opportunities across the regions, leading it to become one of the top 10 in America to start a career.”

The taller, longer U.S. 81 bridge will accommodate bigger ships, bringing the area in line with a trend that led to expansion of the Panama Canal. The canal opened locks for supermax ships that will soon be able to dock in Corpus Christi.

“It would take a very special bridge to replace this current one,” Abbott said. “I can assure you the new bridge is going to be very special.”

It will be the longest cable-stay bridge in the United States, the third-longest in the world. Its design and look will become an iconic landmark, surpassing the majesty of the current bridge.

“The new bridge will mean more exports, more economic development, and both of those mean more jobs for Nueces and San Patricio counties,” Abbott said. “The new bridge will chart new memories and a brighter future. It will transport this entire region from one economic era to an even more prosperous era.”

As part of U.S. 181, the bridge will have six driving lanes and room for pedestrians. Observation areas with telescopes will be set up along the route for food traffic. The taller bridge over a deeper channel is essential for several new industrial projects planned for the area, including the possibility of bringing the cruise ship industry to Corpus Christi. The first of what could be three hearings on the cruise ship proposal is set for Aug. 25 at the Ortiz Center.

Hunter, who authored the bill making the hearings possible, told Corpus Christi Business News the bridge is a major part of bringing cruise ships to the city, but not the only one.

“We have a downtown area that could service a cruise ship and the Ortiz Center, which is convertible and able to dock them,” he said. “A lot of factors up in the air that could land correctly to make this happen.”

Moving the bridge makes the Ortiz Center dock accessible to cruise ships too tall to fit under the current Harbor Bridge.

Once the new bridge is completed sometime in 2020, the old Harbor Bridge will be demolished. The Port of Corpus Christi also has plans to dredge the canal from 45 feet to 55 feet during that time to further provide easy access to larger ships. A promise of that access has brought a Chinese pipe-making plant and an Austrian iron ore plant to the area with $1 billion projects.

Budget for the construction is set at $898 million, mostly funded by the Texas Department of Transportation.

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Jack Alspaugh —
Great day for the Coastal Bends future....

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