AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As Texas crews head to Florida to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, there’s still work that needs to be done to make Texas’ Gulf Coast more secure against future storms.

In Texas, it’s just a matter of time before we deal with a major hurricane like Ian.

Lawmakers have given the green light for the $31 billion coastal spine “Ike Dike” project. It’s meant to help protect the coast. However, there’s still no plan to pay for it, and it could take years until construction begins. Some are urging the plan be finalized sooner rather than later to help save lives.

Surviving a hurricane led to ‘Ike Dike’ idea

If anyone can tell you about a brutal hurricane, it’s William Merrell.

“I was trapped up on the second floor of a building I owned on a strand, when the water was about 13 feet high and under me,” Merrell said.

He survived Hurricane Ike, the Category 4 storm in 2008 that hit Galveston. Since then, he knew he wanted to be a part of a proactive solution to protect Texans.

“Saw the devastation of the, essentially, the poor and the elderly afterward,” Merrell said. “So, recovery does not work for them. Only protection works.”

Merrell is a professor at Texas A&M University in Galveston. He created the Ike Dike concept.

“It has gates and vulnerable roads to the main major inlet into Galveston Bay,” Merrell said. “When a hurricane approaches, you would close off the gate, and you would rely on your land barriers to hold the water.”

In Washington, D.C., the Senate signed a bill giving the go ahead for construction, but it still has to go back to the House and then up to President Joe Biden before funding for the project is approved.

Texans head to Florida

In the meantime, Texas’ Task Force 1 is prepared to help with post-storm disasters. Its crews headed to Florida on Wednesday to help.

“There’s 45 people with rescue boats, four canines and very long procession of semi-trucks full of equipment,” said the task force’s director, Jeff Saunders. “They’re going to be looking for survivors wherever they are and doing as much humanitarian work that’s needed.”

While humanitarian aid remains the focus for agencies helping out for now, Merrell is hoping the Coastal Spine project construction begins sooner rather than later.

“Storms are getting worse … we’re going to get hit. It’s just a matter of time. It’s not if — it’s a matter of when.”

Project construction could take up to 20 years, but Merrell thinks it could be built sooner.

If Congress approves the money, Texas and local governments would have to put up at least $10 billion on top of federal money to fund the project. But Merrell said that price could go up if inflation and building costs increase.