Texas Department of Transportation engineers and environmental consultants are working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists on an alternate plan now that construction at State Highway 151 and Loop 1604 has been halted indefinitely.
According to Josh Donat, TxDOT spokesman, said it could take several weeks to develop a plan on how to proceed with the $15 million dollar project, while also preserving the habitat of a federally protected, endangered spider discovered beneath the site.
“We have to wait until the Fish and Wildlife Service gives us the thumbs up for plan B or plan C or whatever plan we end up going with,” Donat said.
He said the original plan includes two bridges extending from 1604 under 151, eliminating the need for an existing intersection that is often congested.
Known as the Bracken Bat Cave meshweaver, Donat said the spider is blind, nearly translucent, about the size of a dime, and very rare.
He said a single spider was discovered by a TxDOT contractor nearly two weeks ago, in an underground karst or limestone pocket.
Donat said it was only the second sighting in the world. The first was also in Bexar County 32 years.
“It’s phenomenal. Those who are really into spiders geek out about it,” Donat said. “This is really cool.”
He said before construction began, TxDOT was aware “this was a high probability area for running into protected species.”
“However, this particular spider itself, it’s a surprise. It’s a huge surprise,” Donat said.
Dr. Stirling Robertson, TxDOT’s lead biologist, said the spider is “incredibly rare and critically endangered.”
Robertson said portions of TxDOT projects are routinely shut down, but this differs in its scope and the rarity of the find on site.
“In this case, the entire project area has potential to contain this species and the nature of the project is destructive to the habitat,” Robertson said.
He said the agency is collecting data on how many meshweavers may occur in the area.
Robertson said it’s also possible TxDOT may seek authorization that would allow “taking” of a species if the action is determined incidental.