International Bridge Connects Two Nations, Two Cultures, Two Cities

Nation's Cities Weekly, March 13, 1995 | Go to article overview

International Bridge Connects Two Nations, Two Cultures, Two Cities


Already known as the transportation hub of the Rio Grande Valley, the City of Pharr, Tex. is ready for its share of the booming commercial border crossing business with the opening of the new Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge on January 10.

The new bridge links U.S. Highway 281, which originates at the Canadian border, with the Autopista, a new superhighway connecting Pharr's Mexican sister city of Reynosa to Monterrey, as well as to other major transportation arteries serving the Mexican interior.

"The opening of this new bridge means that one can now drive from Canada, through Mexico and on to Latin America using one straight-ahead route, " said Raudel Garza, executive director of the Pharr Economic Development Corporation. "It's the most direct route available for anyone seeking to ship goods or travel from the heartland of the United States to the interior of Mexico or Latin America."

The 3.2-mile bridge-the longest to span two countries anywhere in the world-could be considered a destination on itself. Offering sweeping palm-tree lined vistas on the U.S. side and a scenic drive over the protected Wildlife River Habitat Corridor serving the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, the bridge was built at an average height of 25 feet to avoid disturbing the birds and animals.

On the Mexican side are the remains of a now-closed historical recreation area called Lago Oritizatlan, whose sculptures of heros and mythic figures tell the history of Mexico.

However, it was the border crossing business that most interested Pharr officials when they considered the advantages of extending U.S. 281 to build their own bridge more than 30 years ago.

The bridge was awarded final permits three years ago. Actual construction was completed in 11 months and ahead of schedule.

Jointly owned by the City of Pharr and the Mexican government, the new bridge is expected to pay for itself in three years and generate an estimated $2.5 million in revenues for the city in its first year. Twenty-two permanent employees will be hired to manage bridge operations.

An estimated 500 to 800 trucks and 4,500 to 5,000 cars have begun using the four-lane bridge daily, helping to relieve some of the congestion and waits at nearby international bridges in McAllen and Brownsville.

In addition to the bridge itself, the project includes construction of approach roads on both sides, state-of-the-art customs inspection facilities equipped with the latest border crossing technologies and large import and export docks.

The Texas Department of Transportation committed $15 million to build roads and improve traffic flow leading to the U.S. side. The Mexican government invested $40 million for its half of the bridge, inspection facilities and feeder roads. Pharr financed its $25 moon share of construction costs through bonds.

The General Services Administration is building permanent facilities at a cost of $18.5 million to house U.S. Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and agricultural and Food and Drug Administration inspection operations. Temporary facilities built by the city will house GSA operations until the permanent facilities are completed by March, 1996.

Associated road improvements are the second phase of a $50 million transportation infrastructure improvement project initiated by the Texas governor's office to "bring parity" to state spending for the roads and highways of the South Texas border area. …

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