Rio Hondo bridge repair under way

RIO HONDO — The iconic mechanical lift bridge in this riverside city is now undergoing repairs, and officials say it won’t be long before the damaged structure is back in operation and traffic flows once more.

“The repair should last for five days after which we plan to open the bridge back to vehicular and maritime traffic,” Octavio Saenz, spokesperson for TxDOT’s Pharr District, said via email.

The bridge was damaged Friday when a Trailboss charter bus carrying ICE detainees hit a curb on entering the bridge and then careened across the bridge to smash part of the lift structure. The damage to the thick steel pylon was significant, but none of the four passengers on the bus suffered serious injuries.

The impact point on the bridge has left one of the main steel beams twisted and the bridge unable to be raised to allow barge traffic upstream on the Arroyo Colorado to the Port of Harlingen.

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.

TxDOT awarded Gibson and Associates of Balch Springs a $111,000 contract for the repairs. Initially TxDOT said the contractor would attempt to heat the bent steel beam and beat it back into shape, but it appears now there may be other options.

“They’re working on it right now,” Rio Hondo City Administrator Ben Medina said Thursday. “They’re either twisting the metal back or welding on a new piece. They claim that hopefully it may take today or up to five days, but they don’t know yet.”

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

The unique yellow 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.

Medina said Rio Hondo residents, having gone through that, are resigned to some additional inconvenience.

“They’re just concerned that it won’t last too long, but all we can do is just wait and hopefully the contractor — there’s a whole bunch of people working there right now — is going to expedite it as fast as they can if possible, and do a good job, so we can get back to business,” he said.