DONNA, RGV – As with most things, the decision to build the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge came down to two important factors; location and cost, according to property owner Mike Rhodes.

In a recent interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Rhodes took a moment to reflect on the creation of the bridge as officials with the City of Donna look ahead to long-awaited commercial traffic on the bridge next month.

According to Rhodes, the 1,800-foot span on his property was the shortest and cheapest route to put a crossing. After donating the land for the bridge in 2007, Rhodes said he assisted in obtaining a 30-year Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) for $79 million.

To begin construction, the City of Donna then secured a $30 million loan, which would be paid through property taxes at rate of about2.5 percent over 30 years.

“Ernie Silva had contacted me a few years after I bought the property and informed me that they were about to put an international bridge on my property,” Rhodes said about being contacted initially by consultants from the City of Donna. “Of course, knowing what little I learned about the Valley to that point I thought ‘what’s this about?’

“In their permit they were trying to decide between three locations,” he said. “Honestly, it was quite strange that they didn’t involve landowners at all in their decision, they went strictly by engineering. This was the 1,800-foot shortest cheapest place to put a crossing.”

The Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge initially opened to non-commercial traffic on Dec. 14, 2010.

The city has waited for years to begin crossing commercial vehicles, and that benchmark will likely be met by next month. Empty trucks will begin crossing south on the bridge by January, according to Rhodes. Facilities are currently being engineered in conjunction with Donna and CBP, running the bridge’s fiber infrastructure into Mexico, he said.

That pilot project with CBP in Donna is to create single-side inspection, allowing Customs to x-ray the trucks on the U.S. side of the border, and send those images on the Mexican side, Rhodes said.

“Not only do we have eight lanes, twice the lanes as any other bridge, but we have four dedicated truck lanes with half the inspection time with single-side inspection,” Rhodes said. “Just like at Anzalduas (Bridge), it will start with empties. It is a long process. I have been going through it for years now. The empties will start, and then the fulls start within the next two to three years going both north and south. It’s those empties crossing that get the ball rolling.”

In a recent story, the Rio Grande Guardian has reported that the City of Donna is working hard to get a diplomatic note from the state department in Mexico by Dec. 18, which is the deadline to make an application to U.S. Customs & Border Protection under Section 559 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014.

Donna is asking for Mexico’s support to build additional customs infrastructure at its international bridge. The application allows CBP to accept donations from local governments and the private sector for infrastructure projects at ports of entry.

Over time, Donna wants to donate $45 million under the public-private partnership arrangement so it can facilitate fully loaded trucks at the Donna crossing, which is also known as the Alliance International Bridge. So far it has raised enough money to build the facilities to handle southbound empty trucks and wants to donate these funds to CBP.

The city needs the diplomatic note signed by the State Departments of the United States and Mexico, and is now working with Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre Cantú and Río Bravo Mayor Rogelio Villaseñor Sánchez to get it done.

“The State of Tamaulipas is the owner of most of the property, over 1,000 acres on the other side (and) one thing I have learned through all this process is following the dollar and following the politics to find out what is going to happen,” Rhodes said. “The State of Tamaulipas has some influence on where trucks cross. If trucks go here, the state gets the tolls. If they go here, the federal government gets the tolls. That’s why the influence of these roads is bringing everything here.”

Rhodes hints at courting the oil industry to the bridge. The Donna gateway has yet to find its commercial niche, and could eventually make a case for servicing the oil industry as production in Mexico’s Burgos Basin ramps up production likely within the next five years, he said.

“When you look at who can service the oil industry, Pharr doesn’t have the room, and the Hunts have already restricted themselves out of it at Anzalduas,” he said. “The oil industry is about caliche, and chain link and metal buildings and things that aren’t as pretty. At the very least, we haven’t restricted ourselves to be able to do it here.”

Rhodes said he was a sponsor at Mexico’s Shale Conference in San Antonio last year. After meeting with representatives from more than 100 oil companies at that event, he found that one of the most important things needed to service that industry was a base as close as possible to the border.

“I talked to people from all over the industry and they all know this is coming and it is part of their future,” he said. “It may be postponed for the next five years with our oil prices but the violence in Mexico doesn’t scare them. They do business in dangerous places all over the world.

“I think we’ll see a lot of helicopters in and out with employees, but the main thing most have seen is they need a base on this side as close as possible to the border. It has to be a bridge for trucks,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said the plan for his Alliance River Crossing master-planned community, being developed next to the Donna International Bridge, is to generate almost 7,000 new permanent industrial and commercial jobs along with plenty of open space and parks, retail areas, and schools for nearly 5,000 residents in approximately 1,500 dwelling units.

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a four part feature on Rio Grande Valley land developer Mike Rhodes. Click here to read Part One, an introduction to Mike Rhodes. Click here to read Part Two, a feature on the Bentsen Palm development in Mission. Part Four, featuring the Tres Lagos development in McAllen, will be posted in an upcoming edition.