McALLEN, RGV – The president of INDEX Reynosa, the trade association that represents over 150 maquiladoras in Reynosa, says he wants another bridge built in the upper Rio Grande Valley to service commercial traffic from his city.

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Alejandro ‘Alex’ Avila, said the Pharr International Bridge is near full capacity and the U.S. and Mexican governments are moving far too slowly in equipping Anzalduas International Bridge to take commercial vehicles. He said long border bridge wait times were badly affecting just-in-time deliveries into the U.S. from maquila plants in Reynosa.

Alejandro ‘Alex’ Avila, president of INDEX Reynosa.
Alejandro ‘Alex’ Avila, president of INDEX Reynosa.

“We need another bridge by Reynosa. Right now we have only one, in Pharr, and it is getting to a point where it is totally inefficient. It is taking hours and hours for vehicles to cross. It is taking far too long,” Avila said.

“We are looking for the government to fully open up Anzalduas, or at least to allow empty trailers. But, we are not making much progress. There is going to be construction, expansion, in Pharr. That is great but still we need another bridge. Brownsville has two, Juarez has two or three, Tijuana has a bunch of them. We are the only ones that have to make do with one.”

Avila said he voiced his frustration and that of other INDEX Reynosa leaders at a breakfast meeting the group held at the McAllen Convention Center on Wednesday morning. McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was in attendance.

“The mayor said he is trying to help. He is trying to help. I think he is a little embarrassed because nothing is happening on Anzalduas. The mayor told us McAllen has the money to advertise (Anzalduas International Bridge) in Reynosa, $1.5 million, and the infrastructure is there. We just need to get everybody together, working towards the same goal.”

However, Avila said, that is not happening. “The Mexican government and the U.S. government are treating the issue like a ping-pong ball, if you ask me. One says we need this, the other one says we need the other but nothing gets done.”

Mayor Darling said he has great sympathy for the maquila leaders in Reynosa. “I am not surprised they are angry. I am pretty frustrated myself,” Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“It is a complicated issue and it shouldn’t be. We have been negotiating at the federal level, both in Washington, D.C., and in Mexico City, to get Anzalduas operational for trucks. Senator Cornyn has been instrumental in getting us together with the federal government and through the State Department with their Mexican counterparts,” Darling said.

“For most people in the federal government it is their job, not their mission. The City of McAllen is trying to line up funds. We have $7 million that we have not been able to spend (on Anzalduas) for several years now. We are begging them to make those bridges better and more efficient.”

Darling said it would help if the upper Valley had one single bridge system. But, it does not. Almost every bridge is run by separate administrations.

“If you go to Laredo it is one bridge system. If you go to Brownsville it is one bridge system. Ours has always been six bridge systems and every man for himself. That has carried over in getting a facility done. It kind of amazes me,” Darling said.

Darling said it appears the federal government does not appreciate the importance of international bridges.

“What is coming across these bridges, apart from the cars and people that benefit our region, are goods and products that benefit the entire nation. Goods from San Luis Potosi, Monterrey, come through our ports and they go on to other parts of the United States. The fruits and vegetables we get from Mexico keep our prices cheap. So, why has our city, which has the least financial ability to do so, got to plead and beg and do all kinds of things in order to get the federal government in both countries to pay attention?” Darling asked.

“What the federal government should be saying is we have got to be supporting trade and commerce as opposed to putting up road blocks. Now, maybe I should not be saying this because we are currently negotiating but by the same token it is very frustrating.”

Darling said people would probably not believe it but he actually had a bureaucrat in the federal government ask him if more infrastructure and CBP staff was needed at Anzalduas.

“He told me, we need to analyze whether that service is needed. I said, drive to Pharr. You don’t need to do a study and pay some consultant a bunch of money to determine the need. Just drive over to Pharr and see how much they are over capacity. I am a little bit frustrated by this whole process.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

Asked if he could understand why INDEX Reynosa was frustrated by long border bridge wait times, Darling said; “Sure, they have hundreds of millions of dollars that cross that bridge every day and they are waiting hours. That costs money. We need efficiency. We do not need one bridge dominating. Why don’t we get together and say these are going to be the bridges, this is how we are going to use them, get CBP on board, get Mexico on board and say, this is the most efficient way to run the bridges? I think the customers would pay for that efficiency. We do not have to compete. We could complement each other. So, hopefully, we will get there. We have to take the first step and I am ready to do that.”

Asked if he thought that having one bridge (say Pharr) handle nothing but northbound trucks and another (say Anzalduas) handle nothing but southbound trucks, Darling said, “Sure, why not?” He said he appreciates the work of CBP but cannot agree with one of their suggestions, that truckers reschedule their operations so they cross the international bridges late at night and in the early hours of the morning, when there is less traffic at the bridges.

“CBP said let’s look at hours of operation. I say, no, why can’t CBP adjust to the customer?” Darling said. “I think CBP does a great job but adjusting to the customer is something I would like to see us, as a government, do better. They (CBP) have a job to do to protect the border and protect us from what is coming across but they have also got to understand there is a customer that needs to be served.”

The Rio Grande Guardian first reported Darling’s idea of having one, united, port authority for the upper Valley. It might be called the Port of Hidalgo. Asked how his discussions on that front were going, Darling said: “We are still working on that. I have talked to the mayor of Donna. I have talked to the people in Pharr, the people in Rio Grande City. Maybe it is time to put up some money and do a study on the advantages and disadvantages of a united port, on both sides of the river. One of our problems is we finally got support from CBP on our side and now things are stalled on the Mexican side. You have got to have both sides working together.”