McALLEN, RGV – When McAllen Superintendent of Bridges Rigo Villarreal gave his monthly presentation to his city’s bridge board he had in his notes the figures for southbound passenger vehicles crossing four international bridges in Hidalgo County.
Year to date, the numbers are up for Hidalgo, Anzalduas, Donna and Pharr. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian after the meeting, Villarreal said he puts the increase down to increased confidence in the security situation in border cities such as Reynosa, Rio Bravo and Matamoros.
And, Villarreal predicted, confidence will grow even more now that Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca is governor of Tamaulipas.
“Anzalduas Bridge had 82,808 passenger vehicles crossing southbound. That is 8,022 more than last year,” Villarreal said. “Hidalgo Bridge had 235,330 passenger vehicles crossing southbound. That is 6,182 more than last year.”
Valley cities collect tolls on vehicles and pedestrians going south into Reynosa. Mexico collects tolls on vehicles and pedestrians going northbound into the United States. Villarreal is in charge of Hidalgo and Anzalduas bridges. However, he also had the statistics for Donna and Pharr bridges.
“Pharr Bridge had 68,886 passenger vehicles crossing southbound. That is 5,712 more than last year. Donna Bridge had 47,082 passenger vehicles crossing southbound. That is 6,231 more than last year. We are all up on passenger vehicles.”
Asked why the trend lines are upward, Villarreal gave a number of possible reasons. “I think the economy is improving. The Peso has devalued 30 to 40 percent over the last year, so spending power is up for U.S. visitors to Mexico. Plus, more people are feeling confident about traveling into Mexico.”
Villarreal said he believes that confidence will grow as a recent of García’s election as governor of Tamaulipas. He was sworn into office on October 1.
“We have a new governor in Tamaulipas and so more people are starting to feel confident about traveling into Mexico. The governor has talked a lot about security and improving relations and communications between the United States and Mexico and between Texas and Tamaulipas. People are beginning to hear that message.”
Villarreal attended García’s inauguration on Oct. 1 in Victoria, Tamaulipas. Other Texas dignitaries to attend included Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, state Reps. Sergio Muñoz, Carol Alvarado and Armando Walle, McAllen Economic Development Corporation President Keith Patridge, and Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge Director Josue ‘Josh’ Garcia. U.S. Consul to Matamoros Angela Kerwin was also in attendance.
Asked how the inauguration went, Villarreal said: “It was jam packed. The governor saw a lot of U.S. officials go to his swearing-in ceremony. It is an indication of the trust that these U.S. officials have in him and in his new administration and his new Cabinet. They believe in him and they continue to say he is one of our own.”
Governor García Cabeza de Vaca was born in McAllen and educated in Texas. “He is from our area. There is a lot excitement locally because of this,” Villarreal said. Asked if he believes Governor García Cabeza de Vaca will be good for the South Texas region, Villarreal said: “He has been a mayor of Reynosa and a federal senator from Tamaulipas. He was very active in the development and upkeep of our bridges. I consider him a good friend. I think he will do very well.”
Help for Pedestrians
In his presentation to the McAllen Bridge Board, Villarreal said that due to remedial action, the number of people fainting due to heatstroke while waiting in line to cross Hidalgo International Bridge has decreased.
“We have made a lot of improvements at the Hidalgo Bridge,” Villarreal told the Rio Grande Guardian. “Some of these improvements have been for pedestrians. We have installed more than ten fans out there, along with water fountains with cold water. Also, we have canopies stretching almost the entire length of the bridge. It has definitely helped. We have seen the number of people fainting go down. Customs are happy because they do not have to call an ambulance as often. They have had a lot of situations with dehydration.”
In the meeting, Villarreal was asked about the number of undocumented vendors selling their wares on the bridge. He said it is a problem. “Drivers do not like having the vendors there. It has been a problem over the years. These vendors will sell you anything, water, food, clothes, trinkets, picture frames. We have tried to encourage Mexican Customs to do joint operations to get them out but it is a chronic problem at this point,” Villarreal said in his interview.
Villarreal also spoke about the number of empty trucks crossing southbound on Anzalduas International Bridge. This began on August 22.
“That last week of August we had 72 trucks cross Anzalduas. In September we had 660 and the trend is continuing to go up. We are starting to see 50 to 57 trucks a day. We are hoping that continues upwardly,” Villarreal said.
Villarreal said the projections were higher. “We expected higher numbers of southbound trucks but we were not allowed to advertise prior to opening. So, some truckers do not know we are open for business. A lot of these companies do not have a base on the Mexican side of Anzalduas to park their trucks. Also, the system we have for charging these companies is not what the trucking companies want. They want a sticker kind of system on their windscreen so they do not have to pass out the cards and risk any type of fraud by the drivers. We are working on that with Roy Rodriguez, our city manager. That will encourage more southbound empties.”
Asked for a wrap-up remark, Villarreal said: “The future is looking bright for our bridges, thanks to our bridge board and their recommendations to our city manager. We are going to do wonderful things in the next couple of years.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows new Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca and McAllen Superintendent of Bridges Rigo Villarreal at the Governor’s Inauguration in Ciudad Victoria on Oct. 1.
Related Story: Whitlock: New Tamaulipas Governor Offers Great Promise for Texas. Click here to read it.