RIO HONDO — This city’s mechanical lift bridge reopened to vehicle traffic following a weekend bus crash, but barge transportation to the Port of Harlingen underneath the span remains shut down.
Residents here fear a prolonged closure for repairs will bring back old and unwanted memories of a nearly two-year bridge shutdown that ended last year.
The unique bridge was closed to vehicle traffic between 2016 and 2018 for retrofitting, but since it was in the up position, it allowed barge traffic upriver. The traffic closure of the bridge over the Arroyo Colorado cut the city in half during that time, forcing residents on the western side of the arroyo into roundabout detours to reach the city’s downtown.
The bridge was damaged around 6:15 p.m. Friday when a Trailboss charter bus carrying ICE detainees rammed into the side of the bridge, bending one of the eight major lift support pylons. The bus driver, a security guard and two ICE detainees were injured in the wreck, although none was hurt seriously.
Rio Hondo City Administrator Ben Medina said early Monday that TxDOT was supposed to come and inspect the bridge but in the evening said those engineers did not arrive.
“I don’t know what it is or not. I don’t think they know other than to try to repair it as soon as possible,” he said earlier in the day. “TxDOT is very safety-cautious so they’re going to close this and make their repairs as best they can. I do not know what the time frame is.”
Trailboss, the charter company which owns the bus, said in a statement Saturday that “Trailboss will continue operations while working with the Department of Transportation and police department as needed” as the accident is investigated.
Following the wreck, the bridge was closed for about 24 hours before reopening to traffic Saturday evening.
A video camera on the bridge recorded the Trailboss bus striking the right-hand curb right where two lanes merge into one to cross the bridge. The speed limit is 30 mph.
A dark black tire mark mars the curb where the bus initially struck as it bounced onto the bridge.
The bus then careened across the bridge, striking another vehicle a glancing blow, before hitting the curb on the opposite side of the bridge and smashing into the bridge’s lift system. The distance from the point of impact on the right curb to the left curb is about 110 to 120 feet.
In addition to TxDOT, the Texas Department of Public Safety and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility are investigating.
Any lengthy delay in fixing the lift portion of the bridge would have significant impacts on several industries in the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico.
“I’ve had better Mondays to start the week, that’s for sure,” said Walker Smith, port director of the Port of Harlingen. “It definitely has been a disruption for us today.”
The bridge usually lifts on average three times a day to allow barge traffic to pass underneath to and from the Port of Harlingen just upstream. The port serves as a major conduit for the export of cotton and sugar from Valley farms, as well as having multiple terminals from which it distributes gasoline and diesel.
“All I know at this point is it’s damaged. I know it can’t go up and it’s open for vehicular traffic …” Smith said around mid-afternoon Monday.
The fuel terminals filled from barges which come up the arroyo are a major source of gasoline supplies for the Rio Grande Valley. The diesel terminals also are heavily used by Mexican truckers who haul tanker loads across the border.
Lines of more than a hundred Mexican fuel trucks are a common sight at the port as they await diesel fill-ups.
If barge traffic from the gulf to the port is shut down while bridge repairs are made, both Valley gasoline suppliers and Mexican fuel haulers will have to find alternatives and truck in these vital economic necessities from farther away.