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What will happen with wildlife refuge’s Bayside Drive?

July 15, 2018

Refuge’s Bayside Drive overhaul delayed

By RICK KELLEY

Staff Writer

HARLINGEN — Construction of a new Bayside Drive through the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge has been delayed.

The Federal Highway Administration project will change the 15-mile one-way loop into an 11-mile track. Of those, 8.2 miles will be a two-way, out-and-back road for vehicles and three miles will be dedicated solely for bicyclists and hikers.

Construction initially was to begin in early June but the FHA is continuing its due diligence in selecting a contractor for the project, said Boyd Blihovde, refuge manager at Laguna Atascosa.

“The extension is until July 20 to essentially confirm that the contractor who is tentatively selected has all the budgetary, the financial information, in order,” Blihovde said. “And then (FHA) will have to make a final decision on whether there’s a green light for construction.

“If it doesn’t get any further extension or delays, then the construction should start by no later than mid-August,” he added.

The new roadway will add wildlife underpasses and a raised section will traverse some ocelot habitat, all of which will allow ocelots to move safely within the refuge without having to negotiate traffic.

There will be a 25-mph speed limit on most of the road, and an even lower speed limit in certain areas where ocelots are most active. Blihovde has said risk to the endangered cats will be dramatically reduced.

Two ocelots were killed by vehicles along Bayside Drive in 2009 and 2010, and these were significant losses on a refuge where the ocelot population hovers at around 15 animals.

GPS data from radio collars on ocelots collected later showed they were crossing Bayside Drive up to 100 times per month, and that new information prompted refuge officials to shut down the loop to vehicles in 2013.

The caliche trail continues to be used by hikers and bikers until construction begins.

Blihovde said the delay will not affect plans for the project going forward.

“It’s not a matter of whether it will happen, it’s just a matter of when — after they confirm the contractor,” he said. “They need to check insurance, the bonds, because it’s a really larger project and involving a lot of money, so they have to go through a lot of details with the contractor.”

Once the work on Bayside Drive is complete, the refuge plans to open it to vehicles on Fridays and Saturdays, and bicyclists and hikers the rest of the week.

rkelley@valleystar.com

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