Rio Hondo, port anxiously await bridge inspection today

An out-of-control charter bus did signficant damage to one of the eight lifting pylons on the Rio Hondo mechanical lift bridge. The bridge has reopened to traffic but it is unknown if it can lift to allow barge traffic up the Arroyo Colorado to the Port of Harlingen.

RIO HONDO — This city’s mechanical lift bridge remained open to traffic Monday morning following a weekend bus crash, but residents here fear another lengthy closure to make repairs.

The unique bridge was shut down for nearly two years between 2016 and 2018 for renovation work. The closure of the span 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.

“TxDOT is supposed to come back and assess the bridge today and see what they’re going to do,” Rio Hondo City Administrator Ben Medina said Monday morning. “I don’t know what it is or not, I don’t think they know other to than try to repair it as soon as possible.

“TxDOT is very safety-cautious so they’re going to close this and make their repairs as best they can,” he added. “I do not know what the time frame is. With any luck, today we will find out.”

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. A dark black tire mark mars the curb where the bus initially struck.

The bus then careened across the bridge, reportedly striking another vehicle, before hitting the curb on the opposite side of the bridge and smashing part of the bridge’s lift system. The distance from the point of impact on the right curb to the point of impact on the left 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 could have significant impacts on several industries in the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico.

The bridge usually lifts three times a day to allow barge traffic to pass underneath to and from the Port of Harlingen just upstream on the arroyo, Medina said. 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.

The diesel terminals are a major source of fuel for northeastern Mexico, and lines of more than a hundred Mexican fuel trucks are a common sight at the port as they await diesel fill-ups to transport across the border.