AP NEWS

Raising of Texas 87 needs beach boost next

July 24, 2018

People and businesses on the Bolivar Peninsula received the biggest boost in years last week when the state highway department announced plans to raise Texas 87 by two feet from Rollover Pass to High Island. This change will make the highway much more drivable in bad weather, and it can enhance the beach-building efforts that are also crucial to hurricane defense.

The highway will be raised from 5.5 feet above sea level to 7.5 feet. Where every few inches of elevation matter, that is significant. That highway is the only evacuation route for peninsula residents, and it will now be much more reliable. Texas 87 is already 6.5 feet to 8 feet above sea level west of Rollover Pass, so this new construction will be a logical extension of that elevation.

We’re tempted to call for the work to begin as soon as possible, but it probably would be better if it waited until after the summer tourist season, which will end in a couple of months anyway. The job is expected to be completed by late 2019, and state officials have said the road should remain open even though one lane will be closed periodically.

As encouraging as this news is, it should be the first part of a two-step process. It should be followed by major efforts to build up the beach and sand dunes between Texas 87 and the Gulf of Mexico. If the highway is pounded by water during bad weather, the improvements will not last. The mostly submerged portion of Texas 87 between High Island and Sea Rim State Park is proof of that. Already some parts of Texas 87 near the intersection of Texas 124 are less than 100 feet from the shoreline, and waves hit it during heavy surf.

State and county officials in Jefferson and Chambers counties have been doing more beach buildup in recent years, and every bit of it helps. With a raised roadbed, however, the beach will have more support behind it when waves and tide hit the shoreline. The existing beach should be enhanced by pumping more sand from offshore or trucking it in from other sites. Even if some of it is washed away by the next tropical storm — and it will be — the resource can be replaced.

In turn, a stouter beach and raised highway can protect the freshwater marshes on the north side of Texas 87 and limit saltwater intrusion. That will help the plants and animals in those marshes — and again, help absorb some of a storm’s energy as it hits the coast.

This project should speed up plans to plug Rollover Pass so that beach can be built up too instead of being washed into Galveston Bay. The homes and businesses on the peninsula will always be vulnerable, but the more sand between them and the Gulf, the better.

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