Barge Crash Leads to Oil Spill, Closure of Bridge to Texas Island

A barge collision with a bridge pillar in Galveston, Texas, caused an oil spill and closed the only road to Pelican Island, home to a university, officials said Wednesday. There were no reported injuries, although one person on the barge was knocked into the water and rescued promptly.

The incident occurred around 9:50 a.m. when a tugboat lost control of two barges it was pushing near Texas International Terminals, a fuel storage operator next to the bridge, said David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District. Flores attributed the accident to challenging currents and high tide.

The barge struck the bridge and two telephone poles, resulting in an oil spill into the channel off Galveston Bay. Crews are actively cleaning up the spill. The barge, owned by Martin Petroleum, has a capacity of 30,000 gallons, but the quantity of oil leaked remains uncertain, according to Galveston County spokesperson Spencer Lewis.

The spill prompted the closure of approximately 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry reassured that the closure would not significantly impact water commerce in the area, given alternative routes available.

Pelican Island, connected to Galveston by the bridge, houses a shipyard, Texas A&M University of Galveston, and Seawolf Park. Texas A&M evacuated non-essential personnel, and the island remains inaccessible to car traffic pending inspection by transportation officials.

The Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, in use since 1960, was rated “Poor” in the Federal Highway Administration’s 2023 National Bridge Inventory. Plans to replace the bridge were set for summer 2025, with estimated costs at $194 million due to the structure reaching the end of its design lifespan.