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PHARR, RGV – Pharr bridge officials and representatives from Reynosa’s maquila trade association have agreed to work together in readiness for increased truck crossings associated with the new Kia auto plant in Monterrey.

Kia Motors, South Korea’s second largest automobile manufacturer, is currently building a massive, highly automated, $1 billion manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Monterrey. It will have an annual production capacity of 300,000 vehicles. Kia plans to produce a range of compact models at the plant, which is slated to begin operations in 2016.

Alex Avila, president of INDEX Reynosa, the trade association that represents 150 maquiladora plants in Reynosa, predicted many of the second and third tier suppliers to the Kia plant will be based in Reynosa. He wants the Pharr International Bridge to be able to cope with the projected increased truck traffic.

Alejandro 'Alex' Avila
Alejandro ‘Alex’ Avila

“Kia is going to have a big impact on us because their suppliers are going to be around our area. Many of the second, third, and fourth tier suppliers will be based in Reynosa, Avila predicted. Asked why those suppliers would not be based in Monterrey itself, Avila said: “Monterrey does not have sufficient infrastructure.” Asked why those auto part suppliers would not be based in Nuevo Laredo, Avila said: “We are closer to Monterrey. The plant is on the outskirts of Monterrey, nearer to us than Laredo. Laredo is more of a bypass. They do not have the infrastructure or the people. This is where the action is going to be.”

Avila made his comments in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian at the end of a two-hour meeting with Pharr International Bridge officials on Friday morning. The meeting was arranged after Avila – in the pages of the Rio Grande Guardian on Wednesday – criticized long wait times on the Pharr International Bridge. He said he was also unhappy that Anzalduas International Bridge still cannot take southbound empty trucks.

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian on Friday, Avila said Pharr officials should not only expect increased truck traffic because of the Kia auto plant but also because of the impact of the new Mazatlán-Matamoros superhighway and the decision of many large manufacturing companies to move their plants from Asia to Mexico.

“Take LG, the big electronics firm, as an example. It is bringing its supply chain over here. We are seeing a growth pattern. In the last few months we have had four or five new maquiladoras open. Everyone wants to regionalize, in the Americas, in Asia, in Asia-Pacific, in Europe. There is a move away from globalization towards regionalization. They are coming over here because they see a benefit to being where their customer is. Take LG, their customer base in the United States. They do not want to fly their supplier parts in. Their suppliers will be in Reynosa, near their plant, but, as always, it will benefit the Rio Grande Valley also.”

Avila was joined in the meeting with Pharr bridge officials by Martha Ramos, director of INDEX Reynosa. Asked how the meeting went, Avila said: “We are opening the dialogue. We are saying how can we, the customer, help you, the City of Pharr? We want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. We want to help overcome the inefficiencies on both sides of the border. It does not help if you are efficient on this side of the bridge if you are not efficient on the Mexican side. We are going to work at the national level to address this.”

Asked what specifically INDEX could do to help alleviate long wait times at the Pharr bridge, Avila said: “We can lobby our government to address the problem with the hours of operation. The holidays in Mexico and the United States are different. The bridge may be closed on the Mexican side for Dieciséis de Septiembre and on the U.S. side for Fourth of July. We need to synchronize and be flexible. In industry we are flexible. The government needs to be flexible also.”

During the meeting, Avila made it clear that he supports having both Pharr and Anzalduas international bridges operating at full capacity. At the moment Anzalduas cannot take any trucks. He said the governments of the U.S. and Mexico need to be working harder to get the infrastructure in place to take trucks at Anzalduas.

“As an overall strategy we need both bridges operating for commercial crossings,” Avila told the Rio Grande Guardian. “Brownsville has two bridges. Tijuana has two bridges. We need both. We do not have resiliency in this area. If something happened to this (Pharr) bridge, God forbid, where would we be? We need resiliency. We cannot shut down 2,000 trucks a day. We need to make sure these 2,000 trucks have another way to cross.”

Asked how things were going with efforts to get Anzalduas operational for trucks, Avila said: “I spoke one-on-one with the mayor of McAllen, Jim Darling, earlier this week and he is going to put pressure on his government to get Anzalduas working. We want both bridges working.”

Avila concluded his interview with a plea to both the U.S. and Mexican federal governments. “At INDEX Reynosa, we represent maquilas providing 100,000 jobs. Our impact extends to maybe two million people. The entire economy of Reynosa and to a large extent the Valley depends on the maquilas. We need to be proactive. We need to work together. I know we are talking about two countries but it is really just one economy.”

Fred Brouwen, director of operations at the Pharr International Bridge, chaired the Pharr-INDEX meeting. Brouwen said he was pleased with its outcome.

“We have agreed to work together, to form a committee so we can discuss issues at our bridge. Together we can form an alliance to go to Mexico to discuss the issues we have right now. One of the issues we have right now is the hours of operation on the Mexican side. We know that on a holiday they close early. We need to push to have better hours of operations, particularly during the holidays. The other issue we focused on was the five or six projects we are doing at our port and an agreement that we need to push for completion of projects on the Mexican side.”

Brouwen said there are only really two occasions when trucks are gridlocked on the Pharr bridge. One is “when the system goes down.” The other is when there is a public holiday in Mexico. Asked to define what he meant by the system failing, Brouwen said: “When there is a shipment coming from Mexico the trucker has to send electronic files through the Internet so that when the truck comes in, before crossing into the U.S., the CBP officer can pull up that document and see exactly what is being brought in. When the electronic system fails, which happens simultaneously at all the international bridges, it takes more time to send that information, probably by fax, and that is when the trucks start backing up on the Mexican side.”

Brouwen said he fully understands the frustration of INDEX officials with long border bridge wait times. “We know we have problems on the bridge. We have had a bottleneck of trucks and the reason was we just had a holiday, the Easter holidays. The only time we have long lines of trucks on the bridge is when there is a holiday or when the system goes down.”

Fred Brouwen
Fred Brouwen

Brouwen said that on a public holiday, the Mexican Customs office closes at 2 in the afternoon, as compared to closing at 10 p.m. on a normal day. “So, that is eight hours lost. If we can get the hours of operations changed, believe me, we will not have any issues on top of the bridge.”

During the meeting, Brouwen gave a power point presentation on all the projects the Pharr bridge board is working on at its port. One of them is widening the span of the bridge. Asked how realistic this idea is, Brouwen said: “We have discussed the issue with Mexico and they are on board to do it. Right now we have to get the blessing from our city commission and do a little bit more research as to when we need to build the second span. Definitely, we have the land. Definitely, we have the right-of-way. When the City of Pharr purchased the land back in 1994, it purchased extra land to make sure we could expand. In my opinion, we definitely need to look into it. Hopefully, we can build a second span in two or three years from now. It is up the commission, the mayor, and the city manager to make that decision.”

Brouwen pointed out that truck crossings at Pharr have been going up significantly every year. He said there are about 100 truck crossings a day at Progreso, and 200 to 300 at Brownsville. At Pharr, he said, the figure is 2,000 a day.

“There is a growth of five or seven percent every year. Ten years ago we used to cross 250,000 trucks in each direction a year. In 2014, we crossed 500,000 going north into the U.S. and a little bit more going south. So, we have doubled. We surpassed a million trucks last year,” Brouwen said.

Asked what projects need to be completed on the Reynosa side of the Pharr bridge, Brouwen said: “We need to have more roads coming from the highway to the Aduana (Mexican customs). We are working very hard with the state of Tamaulipas to make sure we remodel the Mexican side.”

Asked if he shared Avila’s predictions about more truck traffic crossing the Pharr bridge because of the Kia auto plant in Monterrey, Brouwen said: “Absolutely. The plant is going to be only two and a half hours away. It is going to be twice as big as the one they have in Korea. We need to be ready for more crossings due to Kia. We are working as a team, not only in Mexico but in the U.S. We need better hours of operation on the Mexican side.”

Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying this story was provided by Kia Auto Motors and was shot at an auto plant in the United States.