AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Gov. Rick Perry announced Wednesday that the Queen Isabella Causeway -- the only link between South Padre Island and the Texas mainland -- is expected to officially re-open before Thanksgiving, a month ahead of schedule.
The causeway was heavily damaged Sept. 15 when a barge struck the span and several sections of the bridge fell into Laguna Madre. Eight motorists died when their cars plunged 90 feet into the water.
"This vital link between South Padre Island and the Texas mainland will soon be restored, allowing tourists, residents, and business people easy access to one of Texas' most beautiful communities," he said. "Everyone involved in the effort to repair the bridge can now turn their full attention to helping South Padre Island and surrounding areas recover from the economic shock the bridge collapse created."
Perry said the collapse of causeway has had a serious economic impact on business in the Rio Grande Valley. Retail trade and services on both sides of the bridge -- such as hotels, restaurants and retail stores -- suffered from during the shortened tourist season this year.
"With the quick bridge repair, South Padre Island will soon be fully open for business," Perry continued. "I urge Texas citizens, visitors and business groups to visit, vacation and convention in South Padre Island."
On Sept. 20, Perry issued a disaster declaration that cleared the way for the Federal Highway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation to share cost of repairing the bridge. The federal government also paid 100 percent of the cost of restoring essential traffic, which included a temporary ferry service to the island.
The Small Business Administration also provided loans for businesses in the area that were impacted by the collapse of the vital link.