|McALLEN, August 22 - Revenues collected from trucks crossing international bridges in Hidalgo County should be pooled together and divided among the cities that own the bridges, says McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.
Darling acknowledges it is a radical proposal but says if city leaders collaborate when they go to Washington, D.C., to ask for more money, they are likely to get far more federal dollars.
Darling made regional unity a top priority when he took office. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian he made the case for a unified bridge system.
“I think if we work together as a bridge system, everybody could make more money. Maquiladoras are going to benefit,” Darling said. Asked if a united bridge system would mean cities sharing revenues raised from truck traffic at the international bridges, Darling said, “sure.”
“Instead of going up to Washington and saying, hey, I want my piece from you and don’t give it to them because I want GSA facilities or I need Customs and Border Protection people, if we went up there as a system and said this is where you should put it, this makes the most sense, it would be much better.”
Darling said he realizes it may be hard sell. “It may not happen in my tenure as mayor but I would like us to sow the seeds to say maybe a commercial bridge system makes sense for everybody and we all participate.”
Darling said such a proposal would never have happened in the days when the City of Pharr had a monopoly on truck traffic. However, he said, that is about to change, with the Anzalduas and Donna bridges soon starting to bring in revenue from southbound “empties.” In fact, an internal memo distributed at a City of Pharr summer budget retreat showed, in a worst case scenario, that Pharr could lose 35 percent of its bridge revenues, once Anzalduas starts taking southbound “empties.”
Darling said it is not an efficient use of the international bridges to mix cars and trucks, or even trucks carrying different types of cargo.
“We are talking about shared services and all that. If you take a look at it, if you take truck traffic and car traffic on the international bridge, especially ones like you have in Pharr and McAllen that have three miles or two miles and high speed, they do not mix,” Darling said.
“What I would like to do, now that, I think, McAllen is going to have truck traffic going south, empties going south, which means the money is spread out as far as commerce goes, now is the time to talk to people. You know, when Pharr had the monopoly, why would they talk to anybody? Now they do not have a monopoly, now is the time to talk.”
Darling said some people in McAllen are probably going to question why he is proposing a revenue-sharing arrangement with Pharr and, potentially, Donna, when McAllen is finally going to get revenues from southbound trucks.
“It might be sacrilege to some but I think it makes sense for us as a region. Let’s have a piece of a bigger pie instead of everyone getting a piece of a smaller pie and dragging ourselves down. Maquiladoras, it is tough what is going on in Mexico and we need to assist the maquiladoras. It does not make much sense to me to have a bridge with cars going in between trucks and everything. And trucks with boats in them and trucks with tomatoes in them and they are all in the same line. What sense does that make?” Darling asked.
Asked if he had presented his case to the leaders of Mission, Granjeno, Pharr, Donna or Progreso, all of which have a financial stake in international bridges in Hidalgo County, Darling said: “We met with Pharr and talked about a system but we have not had any further discussions. Let us quit making political decisions. Look at Donna, what is it they spend on their bridge, 40 cents (per $100 property valuation)? That is terrible for the citizens of Donna. Let us put our civic pride to one side and look at it as a system that hopefully benefits everyone.”
Darling added that there is nothing worse than coming up from Monterrey in 80 minutes and then waiting at the bridge for five hours. “The Monterrey visitors are ready to spend their money in our area. We have to improve traffic flows and I think there are opportunities to do it.”0