Full speed ahead
The prospect of a new 28-car ferryboat in service by the fall and getting planned improvements to State Hwy. 361 South “shovel ready” made for a festive atmosphere at the annual Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce-Tourist Bureau luncheon.
The luncheon, at which new officers and directors were also introduced, was held Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the Sand Castle Conference Center.
The news about the ferry and the highway came from David Casteel, former district engineer for TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) who is now assistant director of operations for TxDOT.
He said one of two 28-car ferries, under construction in Channelview near Houston, should be delivered in September or October. The second 28-car ferry is expected in 2011.
The new boats will be 55 feet wide and will fit in the recently added landings, Casteel said.
The design places the wheelhouse above the deck, leaving the entire deck for vehicles.
The next task is to figure out how to more efficiently load and offload the boat and for that, Casteel said, “We’ll need more people.”
Once vehicles are offloaded, the next project is to get them safely down State Hwy. 361 South. Design work for that has been going on for several years.
Casteel said the plan is to make the highway from Avenue G/Cut-off Road to the “edge” of town a boulevard with a hike and bike path. The next phase would be to extend the boulevard past the Newport Dunes Golf Club. Finally, the remainder of the highway to the intersection of Park Road 22 on North Padre Island will be addressed. Casteel said engineers are working on designs that would create turn lanes in that section of highway without sacrificing the shoulder. Widening the road is not a likely scenario, he said.
He said the goal is to get plans for the portion of the highway from Avenue G to the edge of town “shovel ready’ by May 2011. Then, when funding becomes available, work could proceed.
During a question and answer session, former Mayor Georgia Neblett asked if creating a flyover between the highway and South Padre Island Drive was a consideration for use during hurricane evacuations.
Casteel did not confirm that the idea was in the planning stages, but he did call it a “good idea.”
Former Councilwoman Carol Woodfin asked about any plans for adding a second ferry landing south of the exiting landing.
Casteel said “new capacity” projects are hard to come by in light of the difficulty TxDOT is having maintaining existing roadways.
He also said TxDOT looks to local communities for support and funding for such projects. In addition, the department looks at funding, environmental and maintenance issues on such projects.
Casteel also said that Darla Laughter, TxDOT public information officer, is in the process of conducting a survey that will result in development of a plan to make the ferry a better “front door” for Port Aransas.
Laughter already has learned, Casteel said, that signage could be improved, as could the loading and unloading process, and the traffic directors could be friendlier and send vehicles to the right place.
Also at the luncheon Ann Bracher Vaughan, executive director of the tourist bureau, introduced Bill Bauder as president for 2010. He was re-elected to the position by the board that was seated after recent balloting. Other officers are John Price, vice president; Suzette Freeman, second vice president; Debbie Dean, secretary; and Wendy Moore, treasurer.
New board members are Dean and Linda Halioua. Jim Triplett was elected for a second term on the board.
Vaughan reported that in spite of a poor economy, Texas, and Port Aransas in particular fared better than other parts of the country. In fact, she said, Port Aransas enjoyed a “fantastic” summer.