ROMA, Texas – The lyrics at the beginning of the accompanying video for this story, by an international recording artist, provide the message: “Roma Bridge is falling down.”
And indeed the city’s historic suspension bridge – built in 1928 but out of use since 1978 – will fall into the Rio Grande if somebody does not do anything about it.
That somebody could be the City of Roma, its sister city, Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, Starr County, the State of Tamaulipas, the State of Texas, the U.S. government, the Mexican government, an unknown benefactor or some combination of the above.
“Since the Roma International Suspension Bridge closed down in 1978, local leaders have tried to save the bridge and keep it from being demolished,” said Roma Assistant City Manager Freddy Guerra, during an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian on March 18.
To date, no combination of private, city, county, state or federal government efforts have been able to launch a successful restoration project, he said.
Such efforts of late have accelerated, Guerra said, because, as he puts it, “the cost of demolition would far outweigh the cost of restoration.”
The bridge was built in 1928 as one of the last standing suspension bridges over the Rio Grande. More modern structures have gradually replaced this model.
To demolish the bridge would be to demolish part of the history of a city that lives off its heritage, views, eco-tourism and architecture.
It would also mean that the functioning new bridge beside it would also be at risk, if indeed the Roma Bridge comes “falling down.”
“The deep tensioners supporting the bridge are supposed to be loose,” Guerra said, with his hands on the supporting cables.
“But, as you can see, they are tight, meaning the main spans have already given out.”
Guerra went on to tell this reporter that an imminent collapse of the old bridge could well result in the simultaneous destruction of the current Roma-Miguel Alemán Bridge that connects the two cities, causing disruption for regular crossers and the loss of millions of dollars of international commerce.
Guerra once served as Roma’s mayor. He said previous efforts to save the suspension bridge have been frustrated due to a lack of reciprocity from the other side of the border.
“In 1994 the City of Roma got a $1.2 million grant from TXDOT (the Texas Department of Transportation). Unfortunately we never got a commitment from the Mexican side and we lost that funding,” Guerra said.
He went on to explain that there is a lot of local interest in saving the bridge but that interest dwindles further up the Mexican state and federal government ladders.
Still, Guerra remains optimistic that the historic suspension bridge will be be saved.
“The sense of urgency has put a fire under people’s feet in getting this project off the ground. More than the historic and aesthetic value, is the cost of demolition.”
This reporter first learned of the bridge restoration project at a recent meeting of the United States-Mexico Binational Bridges and Border Crossings Group East Regional Meetingwhich took place at the Pharr Events Center.
Guerra spoke at the event about the restoration project for the Roma suspension bridge.
Following Guerra’s presentation, a representative of the Tamaulipas Department of Commerce presented Guerra with a business card and requested that he contact him.
The estimated costs of restoration range from $2.7 million for stabilization for use as a pedestrian bridge to $15 million for complete restoration.
Although not used for commerce, it is open to a limited number of visitors every March 3rd in commemoration of its inauguration. Although the bridge has celebrated 92 years of serving as as an icon for two border cities, it is expected to collapse before its 100th anniversary, if it is not rescued.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Freddy Guerra, assistant manager for the City of Roma, Texas.