PORT ISABEL, Texas - At least a dozen Brown pelicans were struck and killed by vehicles on Highway 48 between Brownsville and Port Isabel during the recent cold front that blew thru the Rio Grande Valley over the weekend. Their mangled remains littered the side of the highway on both the east and westbound lanes near the Carl Gayman Channel.
Unfortunately, this tragic scenario has occurred for at least the past six years along this stretch of busy roadway as pelicans are forced to fly into strong northerly winds while attempting to reach their roosting site in the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
Many of the pelicans crash into the three concrete barriers separating the four lanes of traffic and extending along the highway's shoulder. The solid four-foot high walls atop the raised roadway creates a deadly turbulence forcing the birds downward.
Last year more than 100 pelicans were killed in separate incidents spurring the Texas Department of Transportation to sponsor a wind tunnel model study which confirmed the deadly downdraft on Highway 48.
Octavio Saenz, Public Information Officer for the Texas Department of Transportation, "So, we are looking what concrete barrier could work, or what barrier could work that will first of all make sure that it does not compromise safety for the driving public, but that minimizes that wind tunnel effect."
Sadly, no action will be taken to remove the deadly concrete barriers this winter by the Texas Department of Transportation as they continue to analyze how best to replace them.
Lowering the speed limit from the current 75 miles per hour to say 55 along this short stretch of highway would greatly enhance the safety of motorists, fisherman and pelicans, but the Texas Department of Transportation is thus far unwilling to address this.
For now motorists are advised to voluntarily slow down especially during windy cold fronts when the pelicans are most vulnerable.