Officials continue to press for truck traffic
McALLEN - Construction on the Anzalduas International Bridge is on schedule and nearing its halfway point.
Concern over delays on the Mexican half of the bridge is also dissipating.
Spanning three miles across the low-lying floodplains to the north of the Rio Grande and canals to the south, the bridge is scheduled to open to traffic in June 2009.
The role of Mexican construction giant Marhnos, which was heavily criticized for its work on the long-delayed Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in the early 1990s, had raised concern over a similar outcome for Anzalduas.
But at present, the Mexican half of the bridge is actually ahead of the U.S. half, said project engineer Ramon Navarro.
"When there's private capital involved, things tend to move a lot faster," McAllen Bridge Director George Ramon said.
"They have $70 million in private capital invested in the project. Surely they're looking for a return."
Marhnos holds a contract with the Mexican government to build the bridge and collect revenues for 30 years.
With construction progressing, the predominant concern for local officials now is securing a waiver on commercial traffic restrictions.
Under the diplomatic note issued by the U.S. State Department, Anzalduas can't serve tractor-trailers until 2015 or until traffic on the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, the only commercial bridge in the McAllen area, reaches 15,000 northbound trucks a week.
But the need for a second commercial bridge is pressing, said Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.
"Just having one crossing poses a risk factor for investors," he said. "When the gas truck crashed and the people lost their lives on the Pharr bridge (on Jan. 11) ... that shut down all the importation from the maquilas into McAllen for almost an entire day."
Patridge also argued that the Pharr bridge is at capacity, a contentious point considering traffic on the bridge presently numbers less than 9,000 trucks a week and the bridge was designed to take 15,000 each week.
"Engineered capacity is ‘x' number of trucks they should be able to process in an hour. Then you have what actually happens," Patridge said.
Pharr bridge officials have disagreed with that assessment, but the director of border projects for Mexico's secretary of transportation, Juan Jose Erazo, described the bridge as "saturated" last year.
Hanging over the debate is another road project, a roughly 150-mile highway under construction between San Luis Potosi and Ciudad Victoria that local proponents say could draw more commercial traffic to the Rio Grande Valley.
Instead of passing through Laredo on their way from Mexico City to Houston, trucks could save between two and two and a half hours by taking the new highway to Victoria and continuing north to McAllen or Brownsville, said Alberto Gonzalez Karam, the Tamaulipas director of the Mexican department of bridges and roads.
"We're expecting to have the road finished in the next year," he said in Spanish.
Submitted by EGH in El Paso.