The Harris County Attorney’s Office has opened an investigation into the Interstate 10 San Jacinto Bridge barge strike, notifying the companies involved on Wednesday.
Rock Owens, special assistant county attorney of environmental affairs, said they’ve already notified the Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and have requested their cooperation.
“Several companies are involved, so we have to determine the role each has played,” Owens said. “Our chief concern is making sure there is no continuing threat to the (San Jacinto River) Waste Pits. Issues involving the bridge itself may be outside our jurisdiction but we are researching that. Our primary focus will likely be on proactive measures that will prevent a future break-a-way barge strike or stranding that impacts the waste pits.”
“Our investigation appears to be straight forward, and I hope it will be concluded in about a week or two,” he added.
Last week, nine barges broke free and floated down the San Jacinto River as Tropical Storm Imelda caused strong currents and rapidly rising waters.
Two of the nine barges — carrying 10,000 barrels of naphtha and 17,000 barrels of monoethylene glycol — damaged the San Jacinto Bridge and became lodged underneath.
A third barge, carrying 10,000 barrels of lube oil, was grounded on the northeast corner of the waste pits.
All nine barges have since been removed from the area.
Since the incident, the Texas Department of Transportation has been working to inspect both the eastbound and westbound bridges to develop a plan of action to repair the westbound bridge and restore traffic flow in both directions on the eastbound side. As of Wednesday morning, the eastbound side was re-opened to two-way traffic.
Contractors are mobilizing materials and equipment on-site to prepare temporary support beams under the westbound bridge. Additionally, once the final inspection reports are complete, the Texas Department of Transportation design team will prepare design plans and construction phasing for permanent repairs on the I-10 westbound bridge.
“We are still looking at the findings regarding all inspections, including those done by divers,” Danny Perez, TxDOT spokesman, said. “From there we will develop a plan of action, including a timeline.”
To re-open the eastbound bridge to two-way traffic, the transportation department conducted general maintenance work on the roadway, restriped the bridge and set concrete barriers between the original main lanes to merge westbound traffic onto the eastbound bridge. Once the inspection report data concluded that the eastbound bridge was unaffected by the barge hit, authorities were able to phase opening lanes in both directions in under 24 hours, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
“We are very thankful for the great work of the TxDOT project team and our contractors in getting traffic moving again on the I-10 corridor in east Harris County,” Quincy Allen, TxDOT Houston District engineer, said. “We also want to express our deepest gratitude to the impacted communities for their patience and willingness to work with us as we worked as quickly as possible, with safety being our highest priority, to restore traffic.”