DONNA, RGV – Both the mayor and city manager of Donna are predicting major economic development projects in their city as a result of the commercialization of the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge.
Mayor Rick Morales and City Manager Carlos Yerena gave exclusive interviews to the Rio Grande Guardian at a recent groundbreaking ceremony at the bridge. The celebration was held to promote a project that will see empty trucks cross southbound into Mexico for the first time.
Soon afterwards, the bridge will be able to handle northbound empty trucks and then, finally, fully loaded trucks going northbound and southbound.
“This is the beginning, the first step in commercializing the bridge, so I’m excited about it,” Morales said.
Asked if he remembers all the naysayers a decade or so back who said the Donna bridge will always be a financial drain on the city, Morales nodded in agreement.
“It’ll be a net positive not only for Donna, but for the whole region, Rio Bravo and the Mid-Valley,” he responded.
Asked about the timeline for fully-loaded trucks going both ways, Morales said: “In about 24 months it’ll be both ways.”
In anticipation of this, Morales said representatives working for Donna have already started marketing the bridge in Mexico.
“We already have people interested just by announcing this. They want to start passing their empty trucks here. I would say within the next six to nine months you are going to see warehouses start popping up all over the place,” Morales said.
“And it’s only going to get bigger. I told people 15 years ago, 30 years from now people are not going to recognize Donna. If you go into town you see a lot of things changing in Donna, and now, with this new expansion of Donna International Bridge, you’re going to see a big improvement in job opportunities for the people of Donna, so I’m excited. I really am. It is a good time to live in Donna.”
Asked how big the population of Donna could get – it is currently just under 20,000 – Morales said:
“I’m not really interested in the population, I’m more interested in the quality of life. I like to keep my city small, and have an abundance of revenue come in, so we can always have maintain good streets, good lighting, good police and fire departments, good garbage pick up and brush pick up, all of those things that make people say, man I like this city. The quality of life things, that’s what I’m really concentrating on.”
While there were a lot of VIPs from across the Rio Grande Valley at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, such as Congressman Filemon Vela, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., and state Rep. Armando Martinez, a striking feature of the news conference was the preponderance of officials from Mexico. A number of them gave remarks. Asked about this, Morales said:
“The current mayor, Juan Diego Guajardo, his brother, Juan Antonio, he and I initiated the bridge together. But, his brother was tragically murdered in Mexico. And now his brother is here to initiate the commercialization of our bridge, so, it has kind of come full circle. And so it’s a good day.”
Yerena, Donna’s city manager, said the southbound commercial traffic project is costing about $4.6 million with a letting date of Aug. 14.
“We’re excited to have this development, it will be great for the City of Donna,” Yerena said. “This is the first phase, which is empty trucks going south. The second phase would be the northbound which is mid-next year and once we finish that construction–it’ll be about a year of construction–once that’s done then it’s totally open for empties and fully loaded.”
Asked what construction has to happen at the bridge, Yerena said:
“Well, for southbound it is basically the runways, the driveways so that they can get through. For northbound we’re going to have the model port. Customs and Border Protection is very happy it’s going to be a model project. We are going to integrate a lot of technology—x-ray technology that will cut wait times by a lot – so we’re very happy about that.”
Yerena said commercializing the port of entry is going to have an impact on the quality of life of Donna residents because it will help city leaders attract economic development. He acknowledged that there were many critics in the city who thought the cost of paying for the bridge would be too much for Donna to handle.
“Things have changed. This is a new day in Donna. Commercial traffic is going to help us not only by bringing in additional revenue as the trucks cross the bridge, but also by allowing us to be a direct route for international trade. We’re already dealing with several companies wanting to come to Donna because of the bridge.”
Asked about the huge number of VIPs at the groundbreaking, Yerena said:
“We have great vision by our mayor and our city commissioners. It is great that we were able to get the support of all the dignitaries–our congressmen, our senators, our local representatives, everybody’s on board. Even more importantly, our partners at CBP are on board with this project. It is going to be great. We even have a congressman from California here. We’re happy that we have everybody supporting this project so that we can continue to get this thing done to improve the quality of life for our citizens.”
The visiting congressman from California was Tony Cardenas, a Democrat from Los Angeles. He was a guest of Congressman Vela.
Asked about the big projects coming to Donna, Yerena said: “It’s in the economic development field. We’re currently negotiating so that’s why we can’t really say much until we get the deal done. But, we’re working on them to hopefully create more jobs and opportunities for our citizens.”
Love’s Travel Stop
One development that has already occurred in Donna in readiness for the commercialization of the international bridge is a new Love’s travel store.
The store, located near Interstate 2 and Hutto Road, has brought 82 jobs and 94 truck parking spots to Hidalgo County.
“Donna is a great area for Love’s to serve new Customers,” said Tom Love, executive chairman and founder of Love’s. “Donna’s location along Interstate 2 is ideal for travelers to stop as they head to and from the gulf. The city has also become a popular stop for professional drivers in recent years and continues to grow.”
The more than 11,000 square-foot facility offers an Arby’s restaurant for Customers to enjoy. The store also offers brand-name snacks, gourmet coffee, Fresh to Go options, fountain drinks, electronics and more. Professional drivers can take advantage of 94 truck parking spots, eight showers, laundry facilities and a Love’s Truck Tire Care center.
“The City of Donna is very excited to welcome Love’s to our growing city,” said Mayor Morales. “Its location along Interstate 2 is prime real estate as it serves residents, motorists and thousands of professional truck drivers that cross our Donna International Bridge on a daily basis. As we open our bridge to additional commercial traffic in the coming year, we hope to welcome even more of them to our city.”