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Texas 87, High Island to Sabine Pass

Also see: October 1998 Proceedings of the Texas Transportation Commission relating to Texas 87
Highway 87, Rebuild or Not?

It's a rare event that a highway is lost to the forces of nature. After all, the construction of highways has been a story of man's power to overcome nature and conquer its obstacles. But Texas 87 on the upper Texas gulf coast provides some dramatic views of a highway that is no more.

The route of Texas 87 has been a transportation corridor since the 1860's, according to testimony at the October 1998 meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission. The beginning of the end of the highway occurred with Hurricane Allen in 1980, which caused a substantial amount of erosion. The road was closed around 1990.

As of September 2001, there is no imminent action to rebuild the highway. Apparently, TxDOT will pay for reconstruction of the 20 mile link, which will cost about $20 million. But local authorities are responsible for getting environmental clearance to build a new road. And that's the problem. This section of highway traverses through environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife refuges, and it will be very difficult to get environmental clearance. As of 1998, the commission proceedings reported that about 2 million dollars were allocated for environmental studies. In the summer of 2001, I spoke to a TxDOT representative at the Beaumont office. As of 2001, there was no significant activity on the replacement of the road. A route has not been selected. My understanding is that a route selection study is still needed. That study could recommended a route much further inland along the intracoastal waterway. There does seem to be a view that the road will be rebuilt eventually.

One of the big problems with rebuilding the highway near the Gulf shoreline is erosion. The erosion rate is about 8 feet a year along this section of coast. Even if the road is built 200-300 feet inland, it would only last for 20-30 years. A major erosion event (a hurricane) could make the lifespan much shorter. One of the reasons for the rapid erosion rate is the lack of sand dunes, as the photos below show.

In my opinion, Texas can get along without this highway. Let nature reclaim the upper Texas gulf coast and return it to its natural state.

First-hand report of driving the lost highway route
Added October 12, 2003
On September 29, 2003, I received a report from a TexasFreeway.com reader who drove the full length of the washed out highway. His report details a fascinating driving adventure. It sounds like conditions are very challenging and the route is becoming increasingly difficult to traverse. He called his journey transcendental. For me, the scenes of my 2001 visit (particularly at the east end) were surrealistic and are permanently etched in my memory. The road pavement came to a halt and natural vegation was ahead. Thunderstorms were forming in the distance. Waves were crashing.
 
Awhile ago I was doing some research on Texas 87 between High Island and Sabine Pass and came across your TexasFreeway website. I loved the pictures and mystery that the photos left me with, so I decided that I was going to conquer it.

I took my girlfriend in my 2000 Ford Ranger 4x4 and waited for a nice, dry day and until low tide to proceed. Needless to say, it was an awesome adventure. Once I got past the crazy nude beaches (I had no idea that there were any in Texas), we were alone. It was quite scary, and the conditions were awful. There was no road or roadbed...just marsh to drive upon. The only low point was when the marsh was unable to be passed due to extremely deep mud (> 12"). I had to get out and build my own road using pieces of the road that remained. Numerous, cavernous bumps (thankfully, my truck has the 18" ground clearance) coupled with deep mud made it quite a jarring ordeal.

We had to navigate through a series of fences put up by the gov't, which required much maneuvering. I had to use 4x4 Low the whole way, as it was quite muddy and bumpy. After passing three abandoned oil processing centers (2 hours later..quite possibly the longest it's ever taken me to drive 20 miles), we made it to Sea Rim State Park (which I suppose is the reward for completing the route, as we got in free). Hundreds of beautiful, gigantic pelicans gracing the sky was quite a transcendental experience. I just wanted to say thank you for inspiring me to undertake the most challenging experience of my life, as well as the most rewarding one in my short 23 years. The pictures are quite impressive as well.

SH 87

Photos taken 7-September-2001

Western End at High Island
Although the road is closed, the beach is still open to vehicles. There was a surprisingly large number of vehicles cruising along the beach at the end of the road. Since beaches to the west are very popular, there is a certain amount of overflow to this section. There is a horrible amount of trash washing up on the Texas beaches - mostly plastic containers. These photos really don't convey just how much trash there is. Apparently, the trash comes from ships offshore who dump their garbage into the Gulf.

Texas 87, High Island
Eastbound motorists on Texas 87 are diverted northward on Texas 124 at High Island. Although not visible in this photo, High Island is on a tall salt dome. Its thirty-eight-foot rise above sea level makes High Island the highest point on the Gulf of Mexico between Mobile, Alabama, and the Yucatán Peninsula. There are plenty of stripper oil wells around the Salt Dome.

Texas 87, High Island (click for high resolution) A closer view of the barricade shows that the highway is still in good condition just east of the closure point.

Texas 87, High Island
(click for high resolution) This view shows the roadway, reduced to a gravel road at this point, angling into the Gulf of Mexico. The dirt road at left is a newer (very rough) short dirt road that leads to the entrance of the McFaddin Wildlife Refuge.

Texas 87, High Island (click for high resolution) This view shows the end of the asphalt pavement.

Texas 87, High Island (click for high resolution) A closer view of the end of the pavment.

Texas 87, High Island (click for high resolution) This view looks back westward at the end of the road.

Texas 87, High Island (click for high resolution) There is plenty of evidence of the former road along the beach. This view shows a debris field of asphalt chunks.

Texas 87, High Island (click for high resolution) This is the most dramatic evidence of the destroyed road.

Texas 87, High Island (click for high resolution) A jeep maneuvers around the big asphalt chunk in the middle of the beach. Because of the asphalt strewn all along the beach, it's a good idea to have a truck or high-riding vehicle (preferably 4 wheel drive) when driving along this section of beach.

East End, at Sabine Pass
Texas 87 near Sabine Pass is very desolate and isolated. This isolation is one of the main reasons why local authorities have been trying to get the highway rebuilt.

Texas 87, Sabine Pass
Motorists reach these signs as the road starts to degenerate. Although it is difficult to see in this photo, there was a large accumulation of water in the roadway just ahead, and it was a good thing I was in a truck.

Texas 87, Sabine Pass
The old roadway is being reclaimed by nature. Parts of the roadway have degenerated to gravel.

Texas 87, Sabine Pass (click for high resolution) The road comes to an abrupt end. Foliage has taken over the broken up asphalt just ahead. It's interesting how the roadway end is so different on the east and west ends. Perhaps the heavy traffic on the west end has prevented the growth of foliage on the west end.

Texas 87, Sabine Pass (click for high resolution) This view shows the remains of asphalt. As with the west end, there is a serious acculation of garbage.

Texas 87, Sabine Pass (click for high resolution) This view looks back eastward towards the road, with the truck positioned at the end of the drivable road. Motorists continuing westward must drive on the beach.

Texas 87, Sabine Pass
This sign warns of the conditions ahead. Although I would have liked to drive along the beach, I wasn't about to try because of recent heavy rains and developing storms.

 
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