McALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says he is working on a public-private partnership to have pre-inspection facilities built in Reynosa before northbound trucks reach Anzalduas International Bridge.

The cost of the project could be as much as $62 million dollars. The private partners the City of McAllen believes it could get to help absorb the cost are the maquila companies and trucking companies operating on the west side of Reynosa that wish to see truck traffic wait times on Anzalduas improved.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

Darling gave a little bit of information on the project to McAllen Economic Development Corporation board members while reporting that truck crossings on the bridge are up.

“We are having record number of trucks crossing Anzalduas International Bridge. That is very positive. I cannot say too much about it at the moment but we are talking to some folks about having a true public-private partnership on the bridge, as opposed to a city-federal government partnership. It is exciting.”

Darling gave more information in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian.

“We are looking at a public-private partnership for funding certain aspects of the bridge. We are trying to get northbound trucks. Currently, we have southbound empties,” Darling said.

“There is a lot of pressure from Mexico to get us to have northbound trucks. We want to do that but the federal government price tag is $62 million dollars. Some of that is a good investment because you get to lease it to the federal government. But, a lot of it is inspection things, equipment, that we don’t necessarily lease.”

Asked to elaborate, Darling said: “It’s kind of like, ‘here is the whole package that you have to commit to.’ I don’t know exactly, we haven’t done an analysis of the rate of return on it. If we did the $62 million dollars, I gotta imagine it would be tough to go and get cash for it on leases for the federal government. And, of course, we don’t get northbound tolls. We only get southbound tolls.

“So, we are looking at maybe a public-private partnership with some of the users of the facility with us saying, you need to participate and if you participate, especially if you have southbound entities, then there is an opportunity for them to participate. The faster they participate, the faster they get their trucks across, the faster they get part of the rate of return.”

Darling explained the pitch the City of McAllen might make to a shipping company or a maquila.

“It is an opportunity for you to get the service that you need and then also for every truck that goes across, you get a percentage of the tolls. That’s a very simplified process but that’s what a public-private partnership would look like, in getting some of the investors besides the City to do that,” Darling said.

“The GSA will not rent from us. So, let’s separate that and say, we need an investor for ‘x’ amount of dollars on this. And, if you invest you get some return on that investment based on the tolls for the trucks that you are putting across. It makes sense to me.”

Asked what the $62 million would be spent on, Darling said more inspections for northbound trucks.

“The real key to all of this, I think, is pre-inspection because if you have pre-inspection they are just going across cross the bridge. The trucks are sealed. It is like a car going across. What really takes time is the inspection portion. That slows everything down. The bridge becomes a parking lot.

“If you do pre-inspection, you have a parking lot before you get to the bridge, and a parking lot after you go over the bridge. But the bridge is just what it is, a bridge.”

Darling said one of the things his city and the other co-owners of Anzalduas International Bridge are concerned about is the length of time it takes for cars to get across.

“A lot of people from Monterrey use the bridge. It gets pretty crowded just with passenger cars at peak times. Other times (the wait), it’s not there.”

Darling said he would like to get to a situation where truck traffic crossing times are staggered.

“We would say to the customs workers, the transport guys, and the maquila guys, accept that ‘if you know if you ran your traffic at this time of day, it makes it much more sensible for you. You will not wait as long to get across’.”

The Rio Grande Guardian pointed out that Keith Patridge, president of McAllen EDC, visited Tijuana to see a truck pre-inspection facility working as a pilot project. Patridge said he was impressed.

“We are going to go over there and take a further look. We would like pre-inspection done inland. It’s very complicated. With agricultural products, if there is cold storage in the truck and you break the truck open, that becomes a quality control issue. There are a lot of moving parts,” Darling said.

“It’s kind of funny, the federal government’s resources are sometimes more scarce than local resources. Take CBP facilities; CBP manpower is limited so you’re always competing with everybody from that standpoint. A lot of moving parts.”

A Port of the Rio Grande Valley

Asked about his idea that all the upper Valley international bridges work more closely together, rather than in competition, Darling said:

“I never said I wanted to do a united port. I said I would like to see a study done. If you look at the other regions on the border, Brownsville has one port director, Laredo has one port director, El Paso has one port director, San Diego has one port director. In the upper Valley, we have five.

“I would like to see a study that said, what is the most efficient way to run this. When you go to Washington, you could say, this is what study says, as a system. Maybe, then, eventually, you say to the customer, ‘there is efficiency if you do it this way, and would save money because of logistics.’ I cannot imagine you make money have a truck stuck on a bridge for four or five hours.

“You could say to the customer, it is going to save money (because the truck is not stuck on the bridge), but it is going to cost a little bit more to do it. That way we could quit fighting. There would be an opportunity, possibly, for more revenue-sharing, because there is more revenue coming in. People are paying more for efficiency.”

Darling wanted the Legislature to help fund the study but that will not happen this session.

“I got pushback from the legislature because they thought I was talking about mergers. But, I never said merge all the bridges. I know that will not happen during my tenure.”

Darling said perhaps TxDOT can help with a study, along with Monterrey Tech and UT-Rio Grande Valley.

“I wanted a bi-national study but things got bogged down. If I had more time, it is kind of like a Jim Darling project. I talked to the mayor of Donna. I talked to the mayor of Pharr. I talked to Sam Vale (owner of Starr-Camargo International Bridge in Rio Grande City). They all said they were in favor of the study but told me, you carry the ball. So, we are still working on it.”