TxDOT officials now say Rio Hondo bridge to reopen in April

HARLINGEN — Rio Hondo residents were disappointed this week to hear the $12.4 million refit of the state’s only mechanical lift bridge would not allow re-opening to traffic until April at the earliest.

The bridge closed to traffic in September 2016, and at the time TxDOT officials projected the bridge would remain offline for 11 months.

Then TxDOT engineers said in October the bridge, which has cut the town in two, could be opened to traffic by December. This week, TxDOT officials said it’s now April.

“First, there is no delay — there has never been a delay,” Octavio Saenz, TxDOT spokesman for the Pharr District, said yesterday via email. “As a matter of fact, we are ahead of schedule. The deadline to finish the project as presented to the public called for a 33-month project.

“When TxDOT and the contractor began work, a plan was devised that could shave a significant amount of time to the project,” Saenz added.

On the city’s official Facebook page, a posting Thursday noted city commissioners were “very disappointed” and “concerned” by the changing timeline.

“We expressed the frustration felt by many of us, not only by the closure but for the lack of communication, and stressed the financial strains caused by our local businesses and residents alike,” the posting read. “We hope that the airing of our concerns will prod TxDOT to convey to their contractor our urgency.

“It is a great disappointment,” the post concluded.

Rio Hondo Mayor Gus Olivares agreed yesterday TxDOT was within its timetable for completing the retrofit of the bridge.

“It’s not a delay,” he said. “They had provided us an estimate that around a certain time it would be done. Are they ahead of schedule? According to their contract, the answer is yes.

“Are the businesses and residents in the community anxious for the bridge to open?” the mayor asked. “The answer is yes. Have we received several complaints and calls in reference to that situation? The answer is yes.”

Both TxDOT officials and Olivares said the latest developments regarding the work have been weather-related, with the cold, snow, sleet and rain preventing crews from wrapping up painting the structure.

In Rio Hondo, the bridge isn’t the only ongoing construction project.

A $350,000 TxDOT grant and about $50,000 from the city were combined to construct new sidewalks and new landscaping in the downtown area.

For his part, the mayor is calling for patience.

“We’re all anxious for it to be finished, especially the people that used to commute back and forth on that bridge,” he said. “I know that it’s affected some of the businesses because of the amount of people not visiting the restaurants or choosing to go elsewhere.

“But I think in the long run it’s a good project that’s going to be beneficial to everyone,” he added.

Rio Hondo lift bridge rehab

Location: Rio Hondo

Cost: $12.4 million

Project length: 0.117 miles

Contractor: PCL Civil Contractors Inc.

Work started: Summer 2016

Completion date: April 2018

Work finished: 86 percent