MISSION — While the men and women in green celebrated the completion of the 400th mile of border wall, the men and women in blue celebrated the opening of two new northbound lanes at the Anzalduas International Bridge, with both events happening simultaneously Thursday within miles of each other.
The idea that in one section of the Rio Grande Valley the federal government was erecting walls, while simultaneously opening the doors to the United States via more lanes, was not lost on those present, most of which made mention of it during their time at the podium at the Mission port of entry.
Standing in front of the newly constructed lanes Nos. 5 and 6 of the land port of entry, federal, state and local officials repeatedly stressed the binationality of the Valley.
“Our bridges serve to connect us in so many ways that are vital to the prosperity of McAllen and the city of Reynosa. And Mayor Maki (Ortiz Dominguez), we’re so happy that you’re here with us today,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said, welcoming his counterpart in Reynosa.
Dominguez was just one of more than a dozen dignitaries who attended the event, including U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, state Rep. Sergio Muñoz and mayors from the cities of Mission, Hidalgo and Granjeno, as well as a representative from Sen. John Cornyn’s office.
“Today, when I went to my office, the first thing I saw was a picture from the 1900s. It was the first bridge that was built between Reynosa, Hidalgo and McAllen,” Hidalgo Mayor Sergio Coronado said. “Then, as I was driving by 23rd (Street), I turned to my left and I saw the wall. What we’re doing today goes beyond opening the lanes. What we are doing today is building social consciousness.
“We want for everyone to know that we have a great relationship with Mexico.”
Today, that relationship is a little strained given the travel restrictions the federal government is only imposing on the land ports of entry to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Southbound traffic, or those traveling into Mexico, has dropped by about 50%, said McAllen Superintendent of Bridges Juan Olaguibel. In any given month last year, about 80,000 vehicles crossed into Mexico per month. This year, they’re averaging about 40,000.
“We want everyone to be safe,” Olaguibel said, noting bridge staff are adhering to social distancing guidelines and following safety measures. “At the same time, we know that we’re doing everything in our power to work with the government to see what options or what safety measures we can have in order to ease up on the travel restrictions.”
Cuellar has already presented a plan to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but it remains to be seen whether they will be enacted come Nov. 21, when the travel restrictions expire.
But despite that, the opening of the two new lanes at the Mission port of entry is a step in the right direction because they will increase the number of vehicles CBP can process at one time and will help shorten wait times during peak seasons, McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez said.
“These two lanes will have a tremendous impact on our ability to move traffic back and forth,” Rodriguez said. “Even in light of what we are dealing with today, we know that there will be an end to that, and when there is, this bridge is going to show the life and the love that we have between our two countries.”
The new infrastructure cost about $2.8 million, and it was made possible through a partnership between the federal government, which provided about $2.1 million in Coordinated Border Infrastructure (CBI) funding for the project, state leadership, which directed those funds to the area, and a local match. Those CBI funds were stopped a few years ago by Republicans, Cuellar said, but he and Cornyn worked with their colleagues in the House and Senate to reinstate them.
“Look, everyday there’s more than $1.7 billion of trade between the U.S. and Mexico. That’s over $1 million every single minute,” Cuellar said. “We’re always talking about adding men and women in green, but it is so important to add the men and women in blue.”
The remainder of the funds, or about $700,000, came from a local source.
“The Anzalduas International Bridge has a CIP fund, which basically means that we earmark 50 cents out of every toll and put it into a fund that we use for infrastructure,” Olaguibel explained. “So the funds that were remaining came from that.”
The superintendent of bridges said the idea to expand the bridge’s capacity came from necessity.
“It’s a very exciting time because we know that this bridge with four lanes would get saturated, and we saw the need and we applied to donate these additional two lanes with equipment,” he said. “The government accepted and so therefore we went ahead and constructed these two lanes for them and donated them so that now you’re going to have six lanes instead of four lanes.”
And there’s more infrastructure in the works, Rodriguez said.
“This is just the next phase of our plans for this bridge,” he said. “We anticipate construction of cargo in 2021, which is very exciting.”
Cuellar echoed those sentiments.
“We’re seeing right now non-commercial vehicles and we are going to lift those restrictions. We’re working on that. It is going to happen. But what I want to see here are those commercial vehicles that we’ve been talking about,” Cuellar said, estimating commercial traffic may be crossing that bridge as early as 2022.