PHARR, RGV – Luis Bazán, director of the Pharr International Bridge, said the city of Pharr is investing more money than any other bridge or city in overtime pay for agricultural inspectors.

At the bridge’s annual ceremony to celebrate the start of the produce season, Bazán said that the through the South Texas Assets Consortium (STAC) of international bridge owners and operators, they have paid $100,000 in overtime since the last fiscal year, and they plan to do the same this year.

“We are the only bridge – the only city – that’s investing this type of money for your product to get across in a timely fashion to get to its end-market with a longer shelf life,” said Bazán to the audience.

The investment comes as the bridge continues to experience increased traffic. In the last five years alone, produce imports have increased by 65 percent and truck traffic has increased by 66 percent. Bradd Skinner, assistant director of field and trade operations for Customs & Border Protection’s Laredo Field Office, cited a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension study that projects a 52 percent increase in produce shipments crossing the bridge from now until 2023.

Since the beginning of this year, there has been a nine percent increase in southbound shipments from the U.S. and a 14 percent increase in northbound shipments from Mexico. Dante Galeazzi, president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA), said that from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, more truckloads of fresh fruit and vegetables crossed into the U.S. from the Pharr International Bridge than any other land bridge port of entry.

“Our Texas ports are so important to the world economy that three of our Texas ports of entry are among the most utilized in the nation, and we’re right here at the site of one of the greatest international ports of entry,” said Texas state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

Pharr City Manager Juan Guerra agreed with Sen. Lucio and emphasized the bridge’s impact on families across the country, calling it “an asset that affects many lives.” Andres Zuniga, CEO of Evergreen Cold Storage, used the journey of guavas to illustrate this point. Zuniga said that in the coming months, Alaskans will be expecting two things: freezing temperatures and tropical fruits like guavas at their local Wal-Mart. As the No. 1 importer of guavas, the Pharr International Bridge will most likely be the port of entry for the fruit to make its way from Aguascalientes, Mexico to Anchorage, Alaska.

Galeazzi added that Texas is becoming the premier location for fresh produce all year long. As demand grows, so do businesses, and Galeazzi says companies like SunFed and Triple H Produce in Pharr are expanding to meet that demand.

“Coupled with locally-grown Texas produce, the products that are brought across this bridge every day are making this region a one-stop shop for retailers and buyers across the nation,” said Galeazzi.

In light of all the growth, Bazán spoke about five projects that will be undertaken at the bridge to improve infrastructure and allow for faster crossings. Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with CBP and the General Services Administration (GSA), the first two projects encompass adding two northbound entry lanes and booths and two northbound exit lanes and booths. There will be a Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lane for vetted companies and a wide-load “empties” lane for empty trucks. The groundbreaking for these projects is planned for late August 2018 and is expected to take ten months to complete.

Around the same time, Bazán said they will begin setting dates for the next three projects – a dry dock expansion to accommodate more trucks; a cold inspection facility expansion; and the construction of a new agricultural training center and laboratory for future entomologists and agriculture specialists.

Bazán said that the future of trade is in Pharr, and to protect that future, the city and bridge are continuing to work with organizations to ensure their voices are heard as NAFTA renegotiations move forward.

“We’re working with the Border Trade Alliance. We’re working with NASCO – the North America Strategy for Competitiveness – being on the same platform with them to make sure that we align our voices – our trade voices – in a unified tone when we take these voices to Washington,” said Bazán.

Whatever does come from the talks, Bazán said they are getting prepared, but hoping for the best.

“We’re going to keep fighting the good fight for trade for you in Washington to make sure we get a flexible, fair and intelligent trade agreement that we can all prosper from because at the end of the day, you know, we’re going to continue doing business,” said Bazán.

In his closing remarks, Sen. Lucio called for regional unity for the economic benefit of all.

“Just as we need our crops to grow, we need our commerce to grow,” said Sen. Lucio. “So, let’s unite today as a region to work together with great collaboration and stronger cooperation so the entire Valley – the entire Valley – can continue to grow as we mark the start of produce season.”