October 30, 2019 555 PM
PRESIDIO – Law enforcement agencies are collaborating on a new plan to control the flow of Presidio traffic during the busy holiday weekend ahead. Traffic is expected to be heavy in Presidio because Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, a biker festival, a norteño festival in Ojinaga and the Terlingua Chili Cook-off will have many travelers passing through town or lining up to cross the international bridge.
“Over the past seven years, visitation in Mexico has increased a lot at our port of entry,” Presidio Mayor John Ferguson said. City officials met with local law enforcement agencies and even involved Texas Department of Transportation, to create a traffic control plan that the mayor called proactive rather than reactive.
The City of Presidio Police Department will be implementing traffic control, supported by Presidio County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, the Mexican Consulate, Customs and Border Protection, TxDOT, and even National Guardsmen stationed in the area. Agencies met up last Monday and brainstormed to prevent the traffic that’s become typical on big holidays.
The resulting plan will stop traffic that’s traveling south on U.S. 67 as it nears the Presidio Lely Airport. City of Presidio Police Chief Jose Cabezuela explained that cars will inform law enforcement whether they are traveling to Ojinaga or just into Presidio, Candelaria or Big Bend.
If a driver is not leaving the country, a pilot car will escort them into Presidio, allowing them to bypass the bridge line, which has recently backed up so far that local residents haven’t been able to get into town without waiting in the line too.
“The ones going to Ojinaga will remain in line and they’re the people we’ll be delaying, bringing in 15, 20 vehicles at a time,” Cabezuela said.
The bridge line will back up about a quarter mile, only to the Valero gas station. Everyone else hoping to cross will wait by the airport on U.S. 67 until law enforcement permits them to proceed to the bridge line in town.
Presidio County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Joel Nuñez will control traffic in the county near the airport, Cabezuela’s officers will work in city limits to inform Nuñez of the status of the line, and TxDOT will provide light board signage in Marfa and Shafter letting international travelers know to expect delays going into Mexico, according to Cabezuela.
The agencies also coordinated with the Mexican Consulate in Presidio to spread information about the delay on the radio in Ojinaga and Midland-Odessa.
Chief Cabezuela said the Day of the Dead holiday is the one that causes the most traffic jams each year and that the department is planning accordingly. Speaking about the interagency coordination, he said, “This is going to be the first year we do this and we’re hoping for the best. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t.”
TxDOT Area Engineer Chris Weber said that it’s primarily a law enforcement function, but the state road agency will be providing some assistance. “It’s the first time anything has been tried like this, but I think it’s a really smart idea by law enforcement. This is a neat temporary measure that could be used again during Christmas or other holidays. It’s an adaptable plan.”
Mayor Ferguson said travelers would do well to avoid peak travel times: Friday for travel to Mexico, and Sunday for returning to the U.S. And if you’re carrying merchandise you have to declare in Mexico, “try to get paperwork started on that so it doesn’t delay you.”