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The Galveston Causeway

Even while the engineers in Galveston were building The Seawall, and working on The Grade Raising, there was one final project that had to be addressed to complete the recovery of the City from The 1900 Storm. Galveston needed a reliable connection to the Mainland that could withstand the future hurricanes that were sure to come.

Prior to the 1900 Storm, the City was using the 1893 wooden wagon bridge, and more than one railroad bridge. All were heavily damaged by The Storm, so the railroads decided to just repair the damage to the Santa Fe bridge, and share this one bridge, which re-connected Galveston to the outside world via train. However, the railroads were concerned about competition from automobiles and trucks, so they resisted efforts to build a new bridge that everyone could use. At the same time, occasional fires on the wooden railroad trestle caused problems and delays.

1893 Wagon Bridge - Galveston, TX
The 1893 wooden wagon bridge.

1893 Wooden Wagon Bridge - Galveston, TX
A swinging bridge allowed boat traffic to pass.

The Repaired Santa Fe Bridge - Galveston, TX
The repaired Santa Fe railroad bridge.

Finally, the Texas Railroad Commission ordered the railroads to build a "fireproof" causeway, but some of the funding would be provided by the taxpayers. The design called for twenty eight 70-foot-long reinforced-concrete arches to span the 2 mile distance across West Bay.  A drawbridge would offer a 100 foot wide passage for boats.

The Causeway would rise 17 feet above the water, and accommodate two railroad tracks, the rails for the Electric Interurban passenger line, a 19 foot wide road for cars, trucks and pedestrians, and a 30" water main. It was designed to withstand future hurricanes,
by being anchored to a foundation of concrete pilings driven 16 feet into the bottom of the Bay. Its design would also eliminate any future problems with fires.

Construction began on 21 July 1909 and the project was completed on 25 May 1912. The Causeway opened, with Governor Colquitt leading a line of 1,500 cars across the new bridge to the outside world.

Opening of new Causeway, 25 May 1912 - Galveston, TX
The opening of the Causeway, 25 May 1912.
Note: Cars to the left of the drawbridge, Interurban Electric
on the drawbridge, freight train to the right of the drawbridge.

Twelve years after the 1900 Storm, The Seawall was standing tall against the Gulf, The Grade Raising brought the elevation of the City up to a much safer level, and a reliable link to the Mainland put Galveston in an excellent position to face the future.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Cars, pedestrians and trains crossing the Causeway.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Train just over the drawbridge.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Interurban electric providing service
between Galveston and Houston.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Today, the original Causeway still acts as
the railroad bridge from Galveston to the Mainland.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
The roadbed is no longer used for auto and truck traffic,
but the water main still brings water to The Island.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Close up of an arch.

As the amount of auto and truck traffic grew, new lanes were badly needed. Construction of a separate span just for cars and trucks, began in 1935, and it opened in 1938. With the addition of this new span, the 1912 Causeway could be used exclusively by the railroads. From that point on, "The Causeway" would no longer be a single span, since the need for more and more lanes would force the construction of multiple spans to carry increasing traffic. By 1956 there was a need for even more auto and truck lanes, so another new span was designed that would rise 72 feet above the water to avoid the need for a drawbridge. When it opened in 1961, work began to raise the 1938 span to match the newest span. The retrofitted 1938 causeway re-opened in 1964.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Photo taken from the top of the just-completed 1961 span,
with the 1938 span to its left and below. The original 1912
span (now the railroad bridge) is off to the far left. Pilings
running under the newer spans is the passage for boats.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
The 1912 span on the left, with the retrofitted 1938 span,
and 1961 span, both on the right. Drawbridge on 1912
span (current railroad bridge) is in the up position.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Boat passage through the 1912 span (with drawbridge up),
and under the 1938/1964 and 1961 spans.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Close up of the drawbridge and boat passage.

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
Satellite photo of the 2-mile Causeway crossing from
Galveston Island on the right, to the Mainland on the left.

Currently, two new spans are under construction to replace the 1938/1964 and 1961 spans for cars and trucks. The boat passage in the 1912 span will also be widened, since its narrow 100 foot width has been the reason for many collisions with the sides of the passage!

Galveston Causeway - Galveston, TX
New Causeway under construction to the right of the
1938/1964 and 1961 spans.

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