PHARR, RGV — The Pharr International Bridge is on the verge of toppling Nogales, Arizona, as the longtime, No. 1 U.S. land port of entry for Mexican produce-laden trucks, according to a new study by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Commercial truck traffic has been diverted from Arizona to Texas thanks to a new highway in Mexico that has created a shortcut through the Rio Grande Valley to lucrative markets in the eastern U.S., according to Dr. Luis Ribera, an AgriLife Extension agricultural economist in College Station.

Luis Ribera
Luis Ribera

The study, done by AgriLife Extension and Texas A&M AgriLife Research’s Center for North American Studies in College Station, shows an increase in trucks through South Texas, especially the Pharr International Bridge, and a much smaller yearly increase in traffic at the Nogales, Arizona International Bridge.

“Mexico’s Highway 40, which basically connects Mazatlan on the Pacific Coast to Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, fully opened in late 2014, early 2015,” Ribera said. “Because of that, predicted growth in truck traffic through South Texas didn’t really materialize until this year. But it did so in a big way.”

Ribera said truck traffic through the Pharr bridge in the first 10 months of 2015 increased 36 percent over the previous year, while Nogales increased by only 13 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

“Back in 2010, all bridges in South Texas combined overcame the Nogales International Bridge in truck traffic,” he said. “But since then, the Pharr bridge alone is seeing a large increase in traffic, while Nogales is seeing much smaller increases.”

Luis Bazán
Luis Bazán

In 2015, an average of 10,991 trucks per month crossed the Pharr bridge, while 11,664 passed through the Nogales bridge.

“That’s a difference of only 673 trucks per month between Pharr and Nogales,” Ribera said. “The year before there had been a difference of over 2,200 trucks, so the trend is showing that Pharr will soon surpass Nogales as the largest single port of entry for trucks with fruits and vegetables from Mexico.”

Ribera said increased traffic has an economic ripple effect for the area.

“It means that some brokers are moving or already moved their businesses from Nogales to Pharr,” he said. “Increased traffic also means more jobs and a demand for more warehouses, gas stations and truck stops, as well as an increase in money from the government for infrastructure construction and maintenance.”

Luis Bazán, bridge director at the Pharr International Bridge, said total truck traffic, including agricultural and non-agricultural, north and southbound, is now over 1 million trucks per year.

“These numbers are a blessing,” he said. “We are growing at a rapid pace and the reason, which we emphasize to our bridge end-users and commercial decision-makers, is that by going through our bridge, trucks save time and money.

“Trucks coming from the Pacific Coast of Mexico can eliminate 3,000 miles and 16 hours of travel time, round trip, depending on their destination on the northeastern corridor of the U.S.,” he said.

Bazán said keeping up with the ever-increasing commercial traffic through the Pharr bridge means promoting the bridge to Mexican businesses, working with his Mexican bridge counterparts and working with the governments of Texas, the U.S. and Mexico to increase infrastructure to keep the operation running smoothly.

“We take the show on the road, I like to say,” Bazán said. “We spend some funds on traditional advertising, but we make a great effort to attend major business conferences in Mexico to meet our future customers face-to-face. We go to the end-user.

“It would make no sense to improve facilities on our side if Mexico didn’t also improve theirs and we didn’t coordinate traffic, so we communicate constantly,” he said.

Since opening in 1994, the 3.5 mile long Pharr bridge near McAllen has expanded and has plans to expand even more to keep traffic moving smoothly and efficiently.

“In the last three to four years, we’ve added two additional commercial lanes for trucks for a total of six, and two more are planned,” he said. “We plan to open two more entry lanes with super booths for commercial trucks, meaning the height of the personnel in the booth will be at the same height of the truck driver in his cab.”

Also on the drawing board is a truck parking and staging area that will sideline trucks while waiting for closer inspections and reduce traffic bottlenecks, as well as two new exit booths, including one for wide-load trucks, and facilities for inspections of produce by U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologists.

“It’s important to reduce wait times as much as possible,” he said, “because downtime translates into losses of billions of dollars over time.”

Bazán said about 60 percent of all fresh produce shipments from Mexico that cross through Texas now comes through the Pharr bridge and traffic through South Texas ports of entry are expected to increase by another 40-50 percent in five years.

“The Pharr International Bridge is here and it’s here to stay,” he said. “We’re always working to add any new facilities that will augment what we have in order to make importing operations run more efficiently and smoothly.”

“When we opened in 1994, we didn’t expect this rapid growth. But by 2003, we were moving 400,000 northbound trucks through this bridge, and in 2014 we jumped to over half a million.

Southbound trucks also increased to over half a million between 2003 and 2014, so we now have a combined north and southbound traffic of well over 1 million trucks per year. All traffic, but especially truck traffic, will only continue to increase with time, as more business develops in Mexico and beyond.”

Compared to last year, Ribera cited an overall increase in truck traffic of 21 percent from January through October for all Valley bridges, including those at Pharr, McAllen, Rio Grande City, Progreso, Brownsville and Los Indios.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows the Pharr International Bridge from the air. It was provided by Pharr IT Department.

Editor’s Note Click here to read a related story headlined: ‘Year to date, fresh produce trade up 38% at Pharr International Bridge.’