Op Ed: The need to expand Presidio International Bridge

Supply chain problems continue to impact Texas businesses, consumers, and our local, state, and federal economies. There are several actions the state can take to improve the flow of trade, support the economy, and address the supply chain crisis. One of those actions is to invest in our Port of Entry (POE) infrastructure, as many of our POEs are already struggling to keep up with the current flow of traffic which is limiting the amount of money our state can get through cross-border trade.

Unfortunately, funding for border crossing infrastructure has not kept pace with increases in cross-border trade, which has resulted in congestion, high wait times, and stalled flow of commercial trade. According to a report from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), current inefficiencies along the border, including delays at the ports, have cost over $68 million in economic productivity. Without infrastructure improvements, we will continue to lose out on millions of dollars that we could be getting from the increased demand for cross-border trade. That is why it is so exciting that after years of strategizing and collaboration between United States, Texas, and Mexico officials, a plan to expand the Presidio-Ojinaga International Bridge is finally making headway.

The Presidio International Bridge crosses the Rio Grande between the cities of Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga, Chihuahua, on the United States-Mexico border. The Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan calls the bridge an “emerging international multimodal corridor,” given its forthcoming rail bridge, expanding road bridge, and potential for growth in commercial traffic.

The two-lane bridge was constructed in 1985 and is the most recent bridge to date. It has seen immense growth in pedestrian and commercial traffic in the last decade, with pedestrian crossings growing by an astounding 825% between 2008 and 2019. It was also the only port to see an increase in bus crossings, which grew by 753%. Although the Presidio port is currently underutilized for commercial traffic, it is projected that Presidio’s trade value will more than double in the next 30 years, reaching $2 billion in 2050.

While the Presidio International Bridge is poised to be a leader in border crossings and a major facilitator of U.S.-Mexico trade, the bridge’s outdated infrastructure is causing long wait times that are stifling the flow of traffic. TxDOT’s U.S. 67 Master Plan, compiled in 2020, noted that at peak traffic times, southbound bridge traffic could back up four miles on the highway. For this reason, TxDOT is planning to expand the bridge and include an additional lane on the northbound and southbound sides.

Improving the bridge is a top priority for the state due to its projected economic impact. However, the construction process has been delayed due to the bridge’s unique ownership. Most international bridges are owned and administered by a private interest group or by the city they’re located in. The Presidio bridge, however, is the only bridge of its kind in Texas. Half of the bridge is owned and administered by the state of Texas, and the other half by Mexico’s Caminos y Puentes Federales. Additionally, federal entities administer customs operations on the bridge. The Servicio de Administración Tributara oversees the Mexican side, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection oversees northbound operations on the bridge and is primarily responsible for directing traffic through the one-lane stretch of bridge.

For the past few years, construction has been delayed due to a new agreement that needed to be reviewed by U.S. and Mexican officials. To keep the Presidio bridge expansion moving forward, I have been advocating and working with TxDOT officials and local stakeholders as well as formally urging Governor Abbott to sign off on the agreement. This project must move forward.

On April 18, 2022, Governor Abbott granted TxDOT approval to move forward with a Cooperation Agreement with the Secretariat of Infrastructure, Communications and Transportation (SICT) and Federal Toll Roads and Bridges and Related Services (CAPUFE) of the United States of Mexico. TxDOT is now working out the logistics with the United States of Mexico and the governor’s office on how to best execute the agreement.

Once the agreement is signed by the governor, TxDOT is aiming for construction on the U.S. section of the bridge to resume mid-summer and to complete the expansion by the end of the year. Improvements to the bridge will improve the movement of both personal and commercial traffic, reduce congestion and bridge wait times, facilitate the continued free flow of commodities between the United States and Mexico, and improve pedestrian safety.

Our POEs play a huge role in our economy by allowing for international trade and cross-border commerce. Last year, I authored and passed Senate Bill 1907 to establish a feasibility study on the collocation of federal and state motor vehicle inspection facilities at ports of entry, and Senate Bill 1308 to establish a study on the impacts of using certain motor vehicle technologies. Both of these bills will improve our POEs, and I will continue to push for legislation that reduces congestion and encourages further growth of our POEs.

The Presidio-Ojinaga International Bridge will hopefully be able to reach its full potential as a POE once it is finally completed, bringing in millions of dollars of trade to our state and creating a stronger Texas economy overall. I will continue to push the project forward, cut through the bureaucracy at TxDOT, and work to ensure the new agreement is executed in a timely fashion to avoid further delay.