Galveston is breathing a sigh of relief today -- TxDOT has reconsidered its plan to close all southbound lanes on I-45 this weekend during road maintenance.
With just a few more days of summer, losing a weekend's worth of business would be a blow to the island's already weakened economy. But this afternoon, TxDOT -- wait for it -- changed its mind.
The schedule maintenance has been postponed until after Labor Day, leaving Galveston free to squeeze every bit it can out of the summer season. (More about that in a minute.)
"We are very happy that TxDOT took that into consideration and made the decision to change," says RoShelle Gaskins, Galveston Conventions and Visitors Bureau public relations manager. "Dealing with the economy and the hurricane, it is important that we have good weekends so we're very grateful that they changed the date. We can get anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000 people here on a busy weekend and ... people spend an average of $109 a day when they're here. Saying how many people would turn around, how many wouldn't come [because of the traffic] we couldn't say."
Visitors account for $800 million a year for Galveston. And since UTMB has been downgraded, tourism is the number one source of income on the island. Among those that were expected to be most affected by a closing of IH45 this weekend was The Grand 1894 Opera House, which is launching its new season with a production of Tuna Does Vegas.
"The Grand had to make a lot of repairs and its important for them to get their fan base back in there to see that they're back and can have the wonderful shows they always have. Not being able to do that on an opening weekend can be damaging," says Gaskins.
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Two other shows on the island would have seen a dip in ticket sales: Moody Gardens' Circo Comedia and Island Etc. at the Strand Theatre's Cabaret, both of which are closing this weekend. Schilitterbahn is also drawing its summer season to a close, though it has a couple more weekends to go. And of course, there are all those souvenir shops and restaurants that depend on the tourist trade.
Oh, by the way, this isn't the first time TxDOT has planned on closing I-45 South during a busy Galveston weekend. "During Mardi Gras, they tried to close the freeway the first weekend. No one wants to sit in traffic on the way to Mardi Gras. And we did the same thing, we started making phone calls, other people started calling them. They changed it then as well."
But TxDOT hasn't quite got the message.
"What is still standing with TxDOT is that there's a lack of communication," Gaskins says. "This has happened now twice. They've rescheduled the closing, but they rescheduled it to September 11th through the 13th. Again, no one called us to see if anything was happening that weekend. That's actually the Hurricane Ike anniversary. We're having citywide events, including a billiards competition at Moody Gardens. It's a million dollars in prize money, thousands of people are coming in for that."