Bridges see traffic increase

BROWNSVILLE — If early numbers are an indicator, Cameron County International Bridge System traffic will continue to increase well into the end of the fiscal year.

In January 2016, about 18,000 commercial vehicles passed through the ports of entry. This year, that number is 20,000, a 10 percent increase in traffic going southbound, said Josue Garcia, Cameron County’s new international bridge director.

That commercial traffic generates more revenue for the county, which in turn makes for a bigger general fund. A larger general fund means the same tax rate or even a lower one.

“It really does help the bottom line,” Garcia said.

Garcia is the first international bridge director the county has hired in about seven years, county administrator David Garcia said.

He was hired with the goal of increasing traffic and marketing the bridges more aggressively, the county administrator said.

“We have three bridges that are really underutilized and we have the capacity to do more,” Josue Garcia said. “We need to market what we have (in Mexico).”

Garcia wants to market the bridges’ fast crossing times and the services at the Los Indios Bridge.

At Los Indios, the county has two entomologists and one plant pathologist. That bridge will also soon have a cold storage facility for produce.

Another element to their success will be strengthening the county’s relationship with Mexico, Garcia said.

“The bridges are practically owned half and half, so it’s important that the things you do go hand-in-hand with what they do,” Garcia said.

Other important partners include U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Port of Brownsville, he said.

The county is waiting to see if it is approved for a donation acceptance program with CBP. If the county is selected in April, it may be able to expand to eight lanes at the Veterans International Bridge, Garcia said.

“There is a lot that has to happen within the process. It’s not just what county will do, but what CBP will do,” Garcia said. “They’d have to have more agents. The county provides facilities, but it depends on their commitment as well to man those booths.”