Contractor to begin work on Rio Hondo bridge

RIO HONDO — Work crews are set to begin today to restore Harlingen’s link to the Gulf of Mexico.

Contractors Gibson and Associates Inc. of Balch Springs have been awarded a $111,000 contract by TxDOT to repair this city’s mechanical lift bridge, severely damaged last week when a chartered bus jumped a curb and smashed into one of the four towers on which the bridge is raised.

The work will require closing the bridge to vehicular traffic while repairs are being made.

“The plan is to start tomorrow,” Octavio Saenz, spokesperson for TxDOT’s Pharr District office, said Tuesday via email. “The roadway will be closed either late tomorrow or first thing on Thursday.”

The bridge was damaged around 6:15 p.m. Friday when a Trailboss charter bus carrying ICE detainees hit a curb entering the bridge, careened into a passing car, and slammed into 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.

The impact point on the bridge has left one of the main steel beams twisted and the bridge unable to rise to accommodate barge traffic on the Arroyo Colorado up to the Port of Harlingen.

“We are waiting on the contractor’s response to determine time,” Saenz said. “The work entails heating the column that was damaged and straightening it back into place.”

The port is a key conduit in the export of agricultural products like cotton and sugar out of the Valley, and bringing in gasoline and diesel fuel. On a normal day, the bridge averages three lifts to allow barges to pass underneath.

Already, the port has suffered from the loss of barge traffic since the bridge was damaged.

“Just between Monday and today we’re probably looking at seven barges inbound and two to four outbound that are going to miss being able to be moved, plus whatever toward the end of the week that need to be either brought in or out,” Walker Smith, director of the Port of Harlingen, said Tuesday. “Its impacted barge traffic, impacted us, significantly.”

Smith said he was briefed on the bridge repairs Tuesday by TxDOT officials, but noted he received no timetable for repairs to be completed.

Trailboss, the charter company which owns the bus, is working with Department of Transportation and police investigators to determine how the accident occurred.

In addition to TxDOT, the Texas Department of Public Safety and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility also are investigating.

The unique bridge in Rio Hondo was closed to vehicle traffic for nearly two years between 2016 and 2018 for a $12.4 million retrofitting, but since it was in the up position, barge traffic could come and go without issue.

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.