PHARR, RGV – Talk to many leaders in Pharr and they will tell you that their international bridge is the municipality’s crown jewel, a huge cash cow that ensures the city is a major regional hub.

Talk to many residents in Las Milpas and their focus is on another bridge, one that is yet to be built but will improve the quality of life immeasurably. The bridge will connect the colonias of south Pharr to Jones Box Park, a municipal amenity that includes soccer, baseball, and a running track.

At present, children living in the colonias of south Pharr have to wade through the ditch or walk across a pipe to access the park. The bridge will provide a safe means to access the Jones Box Park.

After listening to the concerns of Las Milpas residents, Valley Interfaith members in Pharr made the building of the bridge a top priority in 2015. Their grassroots campaign started with house meetings, held to gauge which local issues were most important to the community. The house meetings were followed by an accountability session, where candidates running for city commission and mayor were asked where they stand on the issues identified as important at the house meetings.

Valley Interfaith does not endorse candidates but it does make sure voters know which candidates have signed on to its agenda and which have not. In the Pharr municipal elections held in May, Valley Interfaith worked hard in Las Milpas to ensure a high turnout. Their leaders claim credit for helping shape the outcome of the election.

On Wednesday, when Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez outlined the achievements of the Pharr City Commission in 2015, Valley Interfaith members from Las Milpas were in the audience. They heard Hernandez endorse a package of infrastructure improvements for south Pharr, including construction of the bridge to Jones Box Park.

“The bridge is a health issue for our children that cross from the colonia to the park. In order to access the park, they have to walk across a pipe. They do not want to go all the way around so they either go down the ditch or up the ditch or they walk on a pipe to go from the colonia to the pipe,” said Claudia Garcia, a Valley Interfaith leader from Las Milpas. “The bridge is a top issue for us and, as you heard, Mayor Hernandez says it is in the works.”

Eddie Anaya, another Valley Interfaith leader from Las Milpas, gave credit to Mayor Hernandez and the new city administration.

“In over 20 years very little, if anything, has been invested in our community by the city commission. Getting approval for the bridge at Jones Box Park is huge. The fact that Mayor Hernandez put it in his end of year review as a promise kept is credit to him and the commission.  They are keeping the promises they made in support of Valley Interfaith’s agenda.”

Mayor Hernandez’s agenda for south Pharr does not just comprise building a bridge over a ditch.

The city commission has approved construction and operations of a $4 million development and research center that will double as a public library and recreation center. There is also a robust street paving program in place that includes improvements to many streets in south Pharr that have been in dire need of an overhaul for years. And, in a partnership with the City of Pharr, Valley Metro has extended one of its bus lines all the way south to the Pharr International Bridge, thus ensuring that residents in Las Milpas have a means of connecting to other parts of the Rio Grande Valley.

Anaya said coupled with these projects, one could add street lighting. “More and more streets are getting lights or having lights fixed that were not working. These are huge accomplishments for Las Milpas. In essence, what has happened is that through the accountability session Valley Interfaith had, through the commitment to our agenda and through the high voter turnout in south Pharr, the community’s voice is now being listened to. This agenda is Valley Interfaith’s agenda and we commend the City Commission for keeping the promises made at the election.”

Anaya said Las Milpas residents are particularly excited about getting a public library. The City of Pharr has already purchased the land and anticipates a construction cost of approximately $5 million. “It is going to be a state-of-the-art library and recreational center, a training center for adults that wish to take ESL and GED classes. So, it is going to be a multi-purpose facility that will facilitate and help not only the youngsters but the elderly in our community.”

Asked how many residents will be served through the building of the bridge across the ditch and the public library, Anaya said about 35,000. “Our understanding is that a construction manager has been hired and we are looking at construction being finished late next year or early 2017,” Anaya said.

Valley Interfaith’s Garcia said a public library in Las Milpas is long, long, overdue. “This is a major accomplishment for us. It started with our parents, they have been working on this for over 20 years. That is going to be a major win for us. A great victory.”

Editor’s Note: Five Valley Interfaith members from Las Milpas attended Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez’s End of Year Review news conference at Pharr City Hall. Pictured from left to right are Claudia Garcia, Sarita Valdez, Eduardo ‘Eddie’ Anaya, Flora Sanchez, and Catalina Corona.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series titled Pharr – A Year in Review. Click here to read Part One, featuring Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez. Part Three, featuring the views of Pharr City Manager Juan Guerra, will be published later this week.