PHARR, RGV – Cities in the Rio Grande Valley need to work together on a regional basis in order to prepare for a huge increase in international trade with Mexico, says Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval.
To that end, Sandoval and Pharr Mayor Polo Palacios want to sit down with their opposite numbers in McAllen to how to coordinate traffic flows and share bridge revenues.
“Maybe Anzalduas handles all the cars and Pharr handles all the trucks and we figure out a way to share the profits,” Sandoval said, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian. “Alternatively, maybe we (Pharr) do all the northbound trucks and Anzalduas does all the southbound movements. There are a lot of ways to skin it. It is just a matter of putting it together so that we can regionalize it so that everybody wins.”
Sandoval said getting the cities to work together on a regional basis is imperative because of an expected increase in truck traffic associated with an expansion of the petroleum industry in the Burgos Basin of Mexico.
“Our infrastructure is not set up for what is coming. That tsunami is coming and now it is not just the fruit and vegetables, it is also the petroleum industry, with all the deregulation of the energy industry in Mexico. It is going to be huge. Our roads and bridges are not going to be able to handle it.”
Sandoval’s comments echo those made in the Guardian last month by McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. Darling suggested that revenues collected from trucks crossing international bridges in Hidalgo County should be pooled and divided among the cities that own the bridges. He said if Valley cities cooperated more they would get more transportation dollars from Washington, D.C. and Austin.
Sandoval paid tribute to Darling and said he was ready to sit down with him and discuss a regional approach. “Mayor Darling has been very regional in his outlook. I want to sit down with him and share some ideas I have. It is not because we are going to lose truck traffic to Anzalduas or Donna or that we are in a vulnerable position. It is not that. It is about working together to be ready for what is coming. It has always been about how we can share all the growth.”
Sandoval also praised the vision of Pharr City Commissioner Arturo Cortez, who, at a joint McAllen-Pharr city commission meeting last December, was the first elected official to propose that the two cities pool combine bridge operations resources and share profits. Sandoval said the incoming Hidalgo County Commissioner for the south Pharr and south McAllen area, Eddie Cantu, was keen to get Hidalgo County to leverage its resources to get more transportation dollars. And he said Andrew Canon, executive director of the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization, has some “great ideas” on regional cooperation.
“We have to work out a way to regionalize the Pharr and Anzalduas bridges and possibly Donna’s. We need to work together as a group to lobby for state and federal funding. The Guardian quoted me awhile back about a tsunami coming with all the fresh produce coming from Sinaloa. Well, wait until the petroleum hits. If we do not marshal our resources correctly right now and I mean as a region, Donna, Pharr, Anzalduas, Hidalgo, even Progreso, we are not going to be prepared. I know for a fact that the infrastructure in our county is not ready,” Sandoval said.
State Sen. Robert Nichols, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, recently visited the Valley. Sandoval said one of the important points Nichols made was that if an international bridge does not connect directly to an interstate highway many Fortune 500 companies will not be interested in investing in that area. Pharr’s top transportation priority is getting I-69 Central extended from the I-2 interchange to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.
“Senator Nichols told us that if we do not have an Interstate next to a bridge, a true highway system, there are certain Fortune 500 companies that will not even look at us. How much are we losing out on? A connector needs to be prioritized. It is a regional project. If we do not get this the whole region suffers,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval concluded his interview by saying he objects to the Valley missing out on state and federal funds for a non-toll loop. “Toll roads are okay but the Valley never got a free loop system like everybody else. We never got our version of San Antonio’s 410 or 1604. We skipped that part and went straight to a toll. How is it we got left out? I am okay with tolls but how did we skip that part. If you look at the toll road from Seguin to Austin, it is going broke. What hope do we have down here? Let’s get saturated, let’s get our basic infrastructure taken care of and then look at toll roads. We have not even got to the gates. Get us a seat at the table first.”
Mayor Palacios said he agreed with Sandoval’s ideas for regional cooperation with McAllen.
“Maybe McAllen can keep the cars and we can keep all the commercial traffic? We are the only port in Hidalgo County that is commercial. We are ready to serve and continue to serve. We are expanding our bridge and trying to get our crossing times down from what they are today. We are working with all the agencies on a cooperative basis. Every time we see the need we add to our bridge operation,” Palacios said.
“Maybe (with Anzalduas handling southbound empty trucks), we will lose some of the maquila business on the west side of Reynosa. But, we will make it up in a couple of years. We are building our produce park and storage buildings and that will mean more traffic coming this way. We have our bridge up to a million dollars a month. If we go down by $300,000 we will soon get that back.”
Palacios explained how the expansion of the Pharr Bridge would work. “We are talking about two more lanes going in to Mexico and leaving what is there now for traffic coming this way. We need to cut down on the crossing times. Once we start building the produce park, more traffic is going to come over.”