City officials take blame for holiday Island traffic woes

Traffic slowly makes its way onto Padre Island Sunday.  Heavier than expected holiday weekend crowds led to lots of congestion on the JFK Causeway over the Memorial Day weekend.
Posted at 4:55 PM, May 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-25 20:11:46-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Many visitors from across Texas and beyond descended on Padre Island as part of their holiday weekend festivities, but getting there wasn't easy.

With the holiday weekend wrapping up, Park Road 22 traffic was heavy for a Monday, but nowhere near the congestion earlier in the weekend as tourists descended on Padre and Mustang Islands.

It wasn’t the typical Memorial Day weekend traffic.

“It was like Spring Break," said Cathy Moody. "In places it just stood still."

For many, it was a chance to get away from home after weeks of quarantine.

“With a lot of the stay-at-home and shelter-in-place being lifted and everything, this was the weekend,” resident Jeff Ruiz said.

Friday, and parts of Saturday, traffic to the island was backed up as far as Flour Bluff. The culprit: the traffic light at Aquarius Street.

“That’s a nuisance light,” said Ruiz, who’s lived on the island since 2012.

The light was installed in 2016. Back then, several island residents argued the light would create congestion. As a solution during peak times, the city keeps that light green to keep traffic moving.

But surprised by the holiday weekend volume, city officials were slow to act.

“We turned it on a little too late," said City Manager Peter Zanoni. "That forced green constantly on Saturday, so that did cause some backing up.”

As Texas and the rest of the nation reopen and try to move past the pandemic, city officials expect a busy summer from a tourism perspective.

“The drive market, people coming down here, is something we’re going to see more of,” Zanoni said. “We want that, and we want people to love the experience they have here.”

That experience includes time spent on our roads, which Zanoni says will be in focus all summer.

“We’re going to be using drone footage to assess the volume of traffic and manage the light system,” he said. “It’s all doable, I just think we haven’t focused on it as a city.”

Zanoni said the city has no plans to explore removing this traffic light. Both he and District 4 Councilman Greg Smith believe controlling the light manually works.

City officials plan to use the forced-green system at that intersection whenever tourist traffic is heavy.