Sabine Pass importance; access in and out highlighted at Transportation Summit

Published 12:20 am Tuesday, October 24, 2023

When talking about Highway 87 and Sabine Pass, Mark Viator becomes impassioned.

Standing at a podium, the Sabine Pass Port director pounded his fist to each word as he symbolically put on his preacher’s hat and said “we cannot stop focusing on the need for safety for those people in Sabine Pass.”

“We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to come up with solutions,” Viator said during the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce Transportation Summit.

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He drove his point, explaining the road from Sabine Pass to High Island, which was closed in the late 1980s after hurricane damage, can be a second way into and out of the community. Currently there is one way in and out.

“We’re not talking about a couple of hundred people in Sabine Pass. We’re talking about thousands of workers who are working in Golden Pass, Port Arthur LNG and other facilities that are going to be built there,” he said.

“We’re talking about an area that impacts the state of Texas, in a big way, provides a tremendous tax base.”

Risks that limit mobility

Marsh fires were on the top of the list this summer as dry conditions led to several large marsh fires in Sabine Pass.

The fires limit access to the one road in and out of the community. Then there’s the possibility of industrial explosions, hydrocarbon releases and other emergencies that point to the need for the restoration of the road.

Viator explained at one time the disadvantaged population of the Port Arthur community used the Beach Road to travel to Galveston hospitals.

Key issues

Most of the land that forms Sea Rim State Park to High Island is Federal Reserve, and saltwater intrusion is destroying the marsh, Viator said.

For U.S. Fish & Wildlife to have a right-of-way through their private property they want sustainability.

The Texas General Land Office nor the Texas Department of Transportation want to handle the issue and are not interested in maintaining the road due to future storms, which, Viator said, is understandable.

Those agencies are not interested in toll road projects either.

Viator said projections of saltwater intrusion shows erosion and a receding piece of land.

“People are concerned about cost to replace the road,” he said. “But think in terms of breaching the Intercostal Canal and the costs associated with that. That’s going to be even a greater cost.”

Grant application

The Sabine Pass Port Authority was notified of a U.S. Department of Transportation grant that could help the issue.

The Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-saving Transportation Program (PROTECT) is under the bipartisan infrastructure law and “provides funding to ensure surface transportation resilience to natural hazards including climate change, sea level rise, flooding, extreme weather events and other natural disasters through support of planning activities, resilience improvements, community resilience and evacuation routes, and at-risk coastal infrastructure,” according to U.S. DOT.

The Port authority submitted a planning grant in August after a July community event.

Common themes from those in attendance at the Sabine Pass meeting were safety, need for alternate access and evacuation routes traffic, prevalence and impact of industry, economic development, tourism and access to both recreational amenities and retail trade services, he said.

Viator said they need the support of the U.S. Fish s7 Wildlife Service, GLO, TxDOT, U.S. Department of Transportation, Army Corps of Engineers, and environmental groups.

There is already support from county leaders and congressmen as well as industry, mayor and city council.

Ron Arceneaux, former chairperson for the Chamber and chair of the Transportation Committee, said they have pushed for the reconstruction of the U.S 69/Texas 73 interchange, also known as the cloverleaf for 20 years.

The group has also promoted additional lighting for U.S. 69 from FM 365 to 39th Street and is promoting a study by TxDOT for relieving congestion at the U.S. 69/FM 365 interchange.

“Our Transportation Committee works with local transportation officials from the City of Port Arthur, TxDOT, Port of Port Arthur. Port of Sabine Pass, Jefferson County Judge and Commissioners, the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission, and Jack Brooks Regional Airport to assess their current planning for future projects and to convey our Committee’s issues and concerns regarding the modernization of our infrastructure,” Arceneaux said.

The goal is to support businesses and industry to ensure the networks offer efficient mobility for the citizens, as well as efficient access to our refining, petrochemical, facilities, ports and LNG industries in the Sabine Pass area.