$6.9 million inspection station at Los Indios overdue, stalled

LOS INDIOS — The $6.9 million Border Safety Inspection Facility at the international bridge here sits partially built and virtually abandoned.

On one morning last week, a pair of jackrabbits bobbed up and down as they leisurely patrolled the project’s silent grounds. Elsewhere, rusting cable and construction pipe lay askew in random piles along the fresh concrete roadways.

Weeds rise up to 4 feet high around the two giant, open-air inspection bays, which are backdropped to the south by a solid section of border wall.

Construction on the new inspection facility began in February 2015 and is more than three-quarters complete.

It’s now eight months overdue.

“The Texas Department of Transportation has an agreement in place with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on a concept to re-design the connection between the Border Safety Inspection Facility (BSIF) and the GSA facility,” TxDOT spokesman Octavio Saenz said via email.

“Currently, there is a lengthy land donation process that must be completed prior to moving forward,” he added.

The land donation involved seems to be an internal issue within the federal government, since the property involved no longer appears to be in private hands.

The inspection facilities at border bridges like the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios aren’t involved with drug interdiction or immigration issues, but they have their own important role in ensuring trucks coming out of Mexico meet U.S. vehicle safety standards.

Just up the road on FM 509 sits the old vehicle inspection facility which the new BSIF will replace.

Orange and white barrels block off the primary open-air inspection bay, designed to allow Texas Department of Public Safety inspectors to perform work on trucks from Mexico and stay out of the rain.

But inspectors say the rusty-red, 30-foot tall metal bay has been deemed too dangerous to work under due to structural problems.

Inside the nearby trailer-like offices where inspectors work at the old station, one of them was asked recently when they’d be moving into their new facility.

“Maybe by the time I retire,” he grumbled.

The problems with the new inspection station appear to involve entry and exit lanes for trucks transiting the station. Behind the facility to the south is the solid border fence and it would seem a hole would need to be punched through it to accommodate a truck entrance ramp from the bridge crossing to the station.

Also in question now is just where the trucks would exit, whether out onto FM 509 or some alternative route to reach U.S. 281 to the north.

Changes to the project, as always, are expected to push the final price higher.

As of now, there is no firm date for when construction on the inspection facility will resume.

“There will be a modification to the budget to encompass design changes that were requested by the federal government,” TxDOT’s Saenz said. “Work on the facility was put on hold on September 16, 2016, and a new timetable for construction will be in place as soon as the land donation goes through.”

An email seeking comment from GSA officials yesterday was not returned.