SpaceX, Spring Break causes traffic woes – Port Isabel-South Padre Press


By CATHERINE DONNELLY &  NIIHONTESHA WARRIOR
Special to the PRESS

The Starship and Super Heavy rocket booster launched from SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica at 8:25 a.m. on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The Launch occurred in the middle of Spring Break on South Padre Island and surrounding communities.

On South Padre Island, at 1:00 a.m., traffic was already lined up on Padre Boulevard to get into Isla Blanca Park (IBP)to see the SpaceX launch, according to a Facebook post and picture posted by Tommy Saenz, local photographer, and SpaceX aficionado. The IBP opened at 3:00 a.m. before the launch.

The traffic created by these two simultaneous events was the heaviest Port Isabel had experienced since Sergeant Carlos Gonzalez could remember. Gonzales is second in command and handles the day-to-day activities of the Port Isabel Police Department.

“I would say that the 14th stretched our police department’s resources to our limit as it was a very eventful day,” said Gonzalez. The sergeant recounts the day’s events from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., the seven hours out of which six had his staff dedicated to manual traffic control out on the streets with a whistle and a bright orange vest.

Gonzales said, “To manage the traffic, we pulled from our daily duties, which included me, the administrative sergeant, two investigators, three patrolmen, and a warrant officer. In addition, the night shift normally works 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and they didn’t get to go home until 11 a.m., and they were completely exhausted after a hard 12-hour shift.”

According to numerous police reports from the Port Isabel Police Department that day, it was a very busy time, on top of traffic. Prioritizing calls was a challenge with such limited resources to spare.

At 8:15 a.m., a traffic collision occurred in front of the Constable’s office on Queen Isabella Boulevard (TX State Highway 100). At 8:39 a.m., a reported theft at a residence on Garcia Street. This occurred while heavy traffic was leaving Long Island via Garcia and also leaving South Padre Island and coming over the bridge after the launch.

At noon, a collision occurred in front of Whataburger on Queen Isabella. At 12:45, someone came into the station to report a theft. At 1:00 p.m., there was a criminal mischief incident. At 1:07, there was a call for a welfare check at Harbor Island when very heavy traffic was still being managed manually.

In the evening, things didn’t improve much. Around 5:53 p.m., a major traffic collision occurred involving two vehicles in the Eastbound lanes on the causeway going to the island, which caused traffic to come to a standstill for miles, according to multiple citizens and Facebook posts.

At that time, a fiber optic cable went down on Railroad Street alongside the back of the police department, which affected the internet for the Police and Fire Departments and EMS until 7 a.m. on Friday, according to Port Isabel Fire Department reports.

According to Gonzalez, it interrupted everything from sending emails to viewing videos to booking people into the system. They had to close off both Railroad and South Shore Drive. South Shore is the main safe artery out of the neighborhood, being the only traffic light not set to blinking mode during heavy traffic.

Local citizens, including this reporter, tried to access South Shore to leave the neighborhood at 6:28 p.m. A neighbor had just accessed South Shore approximately 10 minutes earlier and was able to get through. This reporter diverted over to cross Highway 100 at Yturria Street, but it was completely blocked with Eastbound traffic and was inaccessible for approximately 9 or 10 minutes.

This reporter witnessed a fire truck attempting to cross from westbound Highway 100 to get back to the fire station, but no cars budged for several minutes, even after the driver beeped his horn several times. Finally, emergency personnel manually made a hole in traffic large enough for the firetruck and others to pass.

Finishing the day with yet another motor vehicle collision, approximately 6:50 p.m., that an on-site reporter witnessed in front of the Constable’s station in Port Isabel. The story photo is the result of two vehicles in a head-on collision which involved an elderly couple in a small SUV and the black car (pictured) that contained several children as passengers.

“These situations can certainly pose hazards to our citizens,” said Gonzalez, describing the inability to use the crossing areas when needed. Gonzales concludes, “It’s important for drivers to keep the crossroads clear for emergency vehicles and regular citizens.”





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