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MCALLEN, RGV –McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is to ask the Legislature if it would help fund a study on whether the five international bridges in Hidalgo County would be better served by being part of a port system.

Darling said he believes there would be efficiencies if Anzalduas, Hidalgo, Pharr, Donna and Progreso bridges worked together. He would like to see UT-Rio Grande Valley conduct the study. The Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation would likely file legislation to secure funding for the study.

“Hopefully, during the (legislative) session, I would like to get us a study. If we owned all the bridges under one entity, and we controlled customs on each side of the bridge and we represented customers what would be the way to run these bridges in a system to be most efficient?” Darling asked, at a recent town hall meeting he hosted at Luby’s Restaurant on South 10th in McAllen.

“Then use that as a model so when we went to the federal government and said we need more capacity we would have to show it went in accordance with the model. They could use that as a tool, we could use that as a planning tool.”

Darling said he has discussed his idea for a study with some of the people who use international bridges in Hidalgo County for their business, such as customs brokers.

“I said, I hope everybody does not worry about, ‘I want it only for my bridge,’ because I think there is a huge opportunity for us to all make a little more money on efficiency because I know the customer will pay more for efficiency,” Darling said.

The McAllen mayor then gave examples of some of the people that might pay more in tolls if they knew their bridge wait times were going to be reduced.

“I know the guy coming across for Semana Santa, he would probably pay an extra couple of bucks on tolls if we could use that to get him across the bridge a couple of hours faster. I know the maquiladoras would do that. You’ve got a truck load of avocados sitting on a bridge. It takes eight hours to get there and then they spend three hours on the bridge. They are going to pay a little extra money for efficiencies.”

The City of McAllen co-owns the Anzalduas and Hidalgo international bridges. However, the city has no input into operations at Pharr, Donna and Progreso international bridges. Darling said if the owners of all five bridges worked in tandem, things would be better.

“Hopefully, we will convince the other local governments that if we work together as a system we are not going to lose money. We are going to make a little more money in efficiencies and the people paying for the efficiencies are going to be glad to do it because they are saving money too. It is not the mayor of McAllen going to other cities and saying trust me, it is going to happen. That is why we need a study to do it and we have asked the Legislature to help us pay for a study through UTRGV.”

The Rio Grande Guardian asked McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez if he could elaborate on Mayor Darling’s proposal.

“What the mayor is looking for is a coalition between local governments, state and federal governments, so we better understand what we are facing with our bridges, all of the bridges. Competition is never going to go away. Everybody owns a bridge and everybody is out to do the best they can. We understand that. What we want is, what can we do to improve mobility, to improve traffic flow and, ultimately, team up on the border as a system?” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said other large border counties in Texas have coordination when it comes to their international ports of entry.

“If you look at Cameron County, the county owns all of the bridges. They partner with the cities, like Los Indios International Bridge. That is a partnership between the county, Harlingen and San Benito. And the bridges in Brownsville are a partnership between the county and the City of Brownsville. In Laredo, Laredo owns all the bridges. In El Paso, El Paso owns all the bridges. In Hidalgo County, everybody owns their own bridge. So, we have to figure out how we can become as efficient as we can because it does not matter if only Anzalduas evaluates it, or Hidalgo, or Pharr. It has got to be an evaluation of the whole system,” Rodriguez said.

Asked what would be achieved if a port system was created for Hidalgo County, Rodriguez said: “We hope we start planning for better infrastructure, south and north of the river, on all of the bridges in Hidalgo County and that the federal and state agencies that have to man them have a road map of where they are going to have to be, instead of reacting.”

Asked if the individual owners of the bridges, such as the City of Pharr with Pharr International Bridge, and the City of Donna for Donna International Bridge, would still go to Washington, D.C., on their own to push for more federal dollars, Rodriguez said: “Probably, but ultimately, maybe we can have a coalition; some kind of understanding of how the bridge system could work. That is long term. It may or may not happen but it is a good thing to study. Let us see what the study tells us. If it is a third party doing the study, there is no bias.”