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DONNA, RGV – To make commuting a safer experience between downtown Donna and the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge, D. Salinas International Boulevard is being widened.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials recently announced that crews were on site on FM 493 and that reconstruction and road widening had begun on a 5.6 mile stretch of road from U.S. 281 (Military Rd.) to 0.77 miles south of Business 83 in Donna.

Marga Lopez

City of Donna officials said they were thrilled to see heavy equipment on site after a lengthy period of pre-construction that included the relocation of powerlines, phone lines and utilities. Donna Bridge Director Marga Lopez said the roadway improvements are a result of increased vehicle traffic at the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge.

“Our statistics indicate annual bridge crossings since 2010 have increased from 541,506 combined northbound and southbound crossings to a projected 940,000 at the end of Fiscal Year 2017. This accounts for a 73 percent increase from the first year the bridge opened.,” Lopez said.

“This project would not have been possible without help from the many engineers at TxDOT’s Pharr District office and Representative Armando Martinez and his staff. It has been an outstanding collaborative effort the various governmental entities involved.”

Bridge consultant Ernesto Silva, now serving as Donna’s Interim City Manager, said the road re-construction project is valued at approximately $13.6 million with TxDOT providing most of the funding and the City of Donna sharing the cost by paying for the re-location of utilities. TxDOT officials estimate the project will be completed in 2019. They urge the public to slow down in the construction zone and pay close attention to any detours.

Impact of Donna Bridge

Silva said re-construction of D. Salinas International Boulevard has been “an eagerly-awaited project” mainly due to its importance to the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge. Silva said that since its inception in 2010, the bridge has “helped transform the City of Donna from a quiet, leisure town into a thriving and growing community.”

As newspaper reports show, city leaders endured harsh criticism and reproach from some citizens due to the magnitude of the project and the high risk involved in their attempt to revive a presidential bridge permit that had laid dormant for over 30 years. The city went millions in debt and were forced to raise property taxes to the highest rate in the state at the time.

Dan V. Jackson

Silva said he recalls heated council meetings at City Hall, unending presentations in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City, and the nearly impossible quest to secure funding for the bridge. “There were many people who doubted the bridge would ever become a reality. Too many to count. The Donna-Rio Bravo Bridge has been the driving catalyst that has allowed us to lower the property tax rate by 0.38 cents in three years,” Silva said proudly.

Dan V. Jackson, vice president of Willdan Financial Services said he has been impressed with the city’s ability to lower the tax rate in such a short amount of time. “Local officials usually attempt to lower the property tax rate of a community by 0.2 cents, but to lower the property tax rate by 38 cents in three years is astronomical and unheard of,” Jackson said.

Willdan is an economic and financial consulting firm, with offices in Dallas, Texas and Portland, Oregon. Its principal clients are national, state and local governments.  In April 2015, Willdan Financial Services, a subsidiary of Willdan Group, Inc., acquired Economists.com.

“The Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge is the most important economic development project ever undertaken by the City of Donna. The bridge has become the heart of the community as it relates to economic development,” said Silva, concurring with Jackson’s analysis.

“It’s not just property tax rates that have been affected positively. Property values have grown. There is a direct correlation between the growth in the City and the increase in passenger vehicle traffic at the bridge.”

Silva said that since the Bridge opened, the City of Donna has seen an unprecedented growth in many of its financial aspects.

“Property values have grown in Donna from $336 million in 2011 to over $625 million projected in 2018. That’s an increase of over 86 percent in the last seven years. In addition, sales tax collections have increased by from $1.6 million in 2011 to a projected $3.1 million in 2017. That’s over a 94 percent increase. If you take the amount of sales in the City today compared to 2011, the amount of sales has increased by over $75 million,” Silva said.

“Has the bridge had a positive impact on Donna and the lives or our citizens? I’ll say it has – in a big way.”