PHARR, RGV – The Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge is becoming an important port of entry not just nationally but globally, said Pharr Bridge Director Luis Bazan, in his end-of-year report card.
“We are trading with companies from all over the world. Mexico, China, Germany, Japan. You name it. We are bringing in product from all over,” Bazan said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian.
Bazan said trade is predicted to grow steadily thanks to the opening of the Mazatlan-Durango superhighway in Mexico. The new interstate allows fresh produce grown in Sinaloa to reach the northeastern states of the United States faster via the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.
Bazan said customers can learn a lot about trading activity at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge by reading a new book the Pharr Bridge Board commissioned. It is titled: Pharr Trade by Numbers, 2016.
Pharr Trade by the Numbers, 2016
“It’s the second of its kind. We published our first rankings book in 2013. It shows just how important our bridge is. It is important at a global level. I think our customers and potential customers will get a lot out of the book. And, it allows us to tell our story and target specific areas for marketing purposes, so we know where to advertise,” Bazan told the Rio Grande Guardian.
Asked to highlight some of the key statistics in the book, Bazan said: “We are the 6th largest and most important inland bridge in the nation for all imports and exports. We are No. 1 for the importation of avocado. We have been No. 1 for close to ten years now. We are No. 1 for raspberry. We are No. 2 for tomatoes. We are in the Top 3 or Top 5 for the importation of televisions, cell phones, computer monitors, petroleum gas, cotton, wire and cabling, things of that nature.”
Bazan made his comments following a Customer Appreciation Luncheon held at the Sierra Del Sol Golf Club in Pharr. He said the event was the first of its kind put on by the Pharr Bridge Board.
“We used to do things on a smaller scale. But, with growth comes responsibility. As the No.1 commercial port of entry for this region we have to do things on a bigger scale. We have to take care of our existing customers,” Bazan said of the Customer Appreciation Luncheon.
“It is all about business retention and expansion. We are the big boys here, we need to make sure we act like it. We have to make sure our customers know we are here to take care of them.”
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Bazan explained that the Pharr Bridge Board is committed to investing upwards of $15 million to $20 million in infrastructure improvements over the next four or five years.
“The aim is get the products of our customers through our port of entry in a faster and more efficient manner. We are increasing our capacity inside the port. We are telling our customers: we want to retain you as our customer and to make sure you are taken care of every step of the way.”
Asked what infrastructure improvements are planned, Bazan listed six projects.
“Our first new project is not a donation acceptance project, it is something we have been working on with the State of Texas. It is the Border Safety Inspection Facility connector. About 35 percent of our trade, 800-900 trucks per day, can actually bypass the importation process because these are trucks Customs and Border Protection does not need to see. These have already been vetted by the federal government, they are certified FAST C-TPAT.”
C-TPAT stands for the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program.
“Our second and third new projects are two commercial entry lanes and booths. We are going from six primary lanes to eight primary lanes. That will allow us to bring trucks off the bridge and get them out of the port in a more timely fashion. These two entries are going to connect to two exits. Two new brand new exits that are going to be adjacent to the new Border Safety Inspection Facility, the truck inspection station. The two booths are going to allow us to relieve more traffic on the bridge and get it on its way to its destination. It will allow more flow within the port. It will allow for more capacity.”
Two other new projects, both approved under a Memorandum of Understanding with CBP, include a dock expansion, allowing for the addition of 60 more docking spaces, and more brick and mortar facilities.
“We are going to add about 8,000 square feet to our agriculture building, inspection and training center for future entomologists. We want all the bells and whistles so we are taking care of the agriculture side of things,” Bazan said.
“But, we must never forget our maquila business. Seventy percent of what we have crossing the bridge is maquila based, with 30 percent perishables.”
Bazan said the sixth new project will see the addition of another 6,000 square feet of cold storage space. At present the Pharr Bridge has 8,500 square feet of storage for fresh produce.
“People want to know if these projects are really coming to fruition. Some of these projects, we have been talking about for a number of years now. Things take time when you are working with the federal government, the state government and a municipality. But, they are definitely coming,” Bazan said.
“We are part of the 559 program that we have invested time and energy on. Our applications under this federal program have finally been approved so we are working on them. Nothing happens overnight. Once we complete these projects your trade is going to be safe and secure and get to its destination in a timely fashion.”
The 559 program is so named because it was made law under Section 559 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. It allows CBP and the General Services Administration to accept donations of real or personal property or non-personal services to be used for construction, alterations, operation, or maintenance of a new or existing port of entry.
“These improvements at our bridge will last 25 years,” Bazan predicted. “In future, it will be all about technology upgrades and maintenance. The infrastructure will be in place.”
Expanded Office Building
Another planned improvement, though not listed in the six infrastructure projects, involves the Pharr Bridge office. Bazan said the plan is to double the size of the building. “We want an additional 3,000 square feet. We know we need to increase the size of our conference room. It is pretty small for the number of people we are attracting these days. We get members of Congress on a monthly basis. We have had about 30 members of Congress over the past couple of years. We are selling ourselves short. We need the space. We need increased office space for our staff. We want a lobby area with a full-time receptionist on board. And, we may rent out office spaces to some customers.”
Having infrastructure upgrades on the Pharr side of the bridge is fine but not of great value if improvements are not also being made on the Reynosa side. That is happening also, Bazan reported.
“We could not do this without our partners in Reynosa. We are working very closely with the Mexican government, not just at the state level but the federal level also, to land projects, to land economic opportunity. Some of these projects include improved access to the Aduana facilities, for example. It has been a long time coming. We need it to help relieve congestion. We are getting prepared for more trade, both ways,” Bazan said.
Aduana is the Mexican federal customs agency.
Bazan finished his 2016 end-of-year report card with these closing remarks: “We have been growing for 22 years now and there are more great things coming to the Pharr Bridge. With growth comes responsibility and our responsibility is to grow along with the trade we know is coming. We want to make sure our customers are taken care of. When it comes to permitting, when it comes to planning, whatever it is you need, at the bridge or from the City, we are here for you.”
Editor’s Note: Rio Grande Guardian reporter Stephanie Jara contributed to this story from Pharr, Texas.