HARLINGEN — Construction crews are nearing completion of the new cold storage inspection facility at the Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios.
Raudel Garza, chief executive of the Harlingen Economic Development Corp., told board members and city officials this week he expects a ribbon-cutting at the facility sometime in February.
“The box itself is done,” Garza said. “What we’re working on right now is powering up.
“Right after Thanksgiving, they were putting up the bollards and guardrails to make sure the box doesn’t get damaged by an errant forklift, because that does happen, or from pallets that are being stacked up,” he said.
The box is the walled-in refrigeration unit which is so important to produce shippers.
When a produce truck is sent for a secondary inspection when crossing the border at Los Indios now, the vegetables or fruits packed in the truck are hauled out onto an open dock.
Produce which warms in this unrefrigerated space loses what shippers call the “cold chain,” and eventually this type of inspection facility will mean a shorter shelf life for vegetables and fruits.
The new refrigerated inspection facility, which has three cooled docking bays, will maintain the cold chain for produce crossing at Los Indios and make it a far more attractive option to shippers.
Several bridge crossings in the Rio Grande Valley move fresh produce by the ton from Mexico to the United States already, such as Laredo and Rio Grande City. Laredo has a cold storage inspection facility while Rio Grande City does not.
But it is the Pharr bridge, which also has a cold storage facility, which has emerged over the past decade as the No. 1 transit point for imported fresh produce from Mexico. The Pharr crossing replaced the previous top bridge for produce at Nogales, Arizona, around two years ago.
The Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios is jointly owned by Cameron County with 50 percent, and Harlingen and San Benito with 25 percent each. It generates more than $2 million in tolls and fees each year.
Harlingen, San Benito and Cameron County officials hope the Los Indios crossing will be seen as a viable and perhaps faster crossing than Pharr.
“Everything is in at this point,” Garza said. “AEP (Texas) is running the electric lines and … we should be open, once everything gets tested and powered up, by February.”
After months of bureaucratic delays over the facility, Garza said things are now moving quickly.
“The final touches are being done, as far as ceilings and that type of thing,” he said. “Then they need to test it for a while to make sure everything is running appropriately at the right temperatures because it’s sensitive to that.”
Garza also announced the HEDC, the cities of Harlingen and San Benito, and Cameron County have embarked on a new marketing strategy to promote the Los Indios crossing.
“Not just the Los Indios bridge, but all the Cameron County bridges,” Garza told the board.
Garza said a committee completed the interview process for several marketing agencies last week and is evaluating those applicants prior to signing a contract.
Brownsville – 180,665
Los Indios – 23,745
Pharr – 546,259
Progreso – 39,940
Source: TAMU International University’s Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development
2016 — 108,523 total loads, 93,364 crossed at Pharr
2017 — 118,751 total loads, 95,832 crossed at Pharr
Source: Texas International Produce Association