Official warn motorists to be on the lookout for pelicans

Drivers heading east on State Highway 48 will need to pay extra attention to the road beginning this morning to help save the lives of pelicans trapped on the roadway near the Bahia Grande Project.

Concrete barriers that line SH48 create an air “vortex” when a cold front moves through the Rio Grande Valley. The downward draft traps brown pelicans traversing a bridge across the wetlands, which has resulted in the deaths of dozens of birds.

Forecasts indicate that a cold front will move in to the area in the early hours of this morning. According to The Texas Department of Transportation, north winds greater than 20 miles per hour, cold temperatures, and overcast or rainy conditions can trap the birds as they fly through.

“The Texas Department of Transportation asks the help of the driving public by increasing awareness and reducing speed when needed,” said TXDOT spokesman Octavio Saenz. He noted that the agency is also asking anglers not to park in the construction site for safety reasons.

The National Weather Service in Brownsville issued a wind advisory that remains in affect until 1 p.m. today. The NWS said wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour were anticipated.

TxDOT is currently replacing the concrete rail on both sides of the highway, but since the project is not complete it is likely that drivers will encounter trapped pelicans.

According to the agency, pelican deaths can be traced back to 2011. As reports of the incidents increased, measures were taken to keep the bridge clear, including the 2015 installation of “pelican poles” that encourage the birds to fly higher while crossing the site currently under construction.

The agency chose to replace the barriers after a study completed by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute determined that the project could reduce the strength of the vortex.

TxDOT expects to complete construction by the end of Fall 2019. In the meantime, the department plans safety measures including flashing warning signs, reduced speeds, and reflectors on standing structures.