June 22, 2022 634 PM
PRESIDIO — There was cause for celebration at Tuesday’s Presidio County Commissioners Court meeting: construction on the international bridge is expected to start again in a few weeks. The project has been delayed for years, as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two countries languished on Governor Abbott’s desk. Jake Giesbrecht, executive director of the Presidio International Port Authority (PIPA), expected “boots on the ground” by July 5.
Giesbrecht, who also owns a trucking company that serves both sides of the border, has attended a series of meetings between Mexican and American officials. “That’s sort of my role — a liaison between state and federal governments here and in Mexico, and then businesspeople and the private sector,” he explained. “There’s so many pieces of the puzzle, but you have to keep the communication lines open.”
The Presidio bridge is unique in that half of it is owned and administered by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and the other half is administered by CAPUFE, a Mexican agency that administers roads and bridges. No other international bridge in Texas is owned by the state. “We’re like their only child,” Giesbrecht explained. “It’s a negative and a positive.”
Construction duties on the bridge were split between the two countries. Texas stopped construction in April 2020, while the Mexican agencies worked through the pandemic to finish their half. The stalled American construction has cinched the western half of the bridge into one lane, congesting customs lines and requiring agents on both sides to conduct traffic in addition to their regular duties.
Presidio officials had been hoping the construction would be finished by the holidays — according to a TxDOT survey, bridge traffic at peak times like Día de los Muertos and Christmas can back up several miles on U.S.-67. A spokesperson for TxDOT estimated in an email to Presidio’s mayor, John Ferguson, that the construction itself would take four months to complete once re-initiated.
Presidio County Precinct 1 Commissioner Eloy Aranda had been fielding complaints from constituents for years. “My concern is that the bridge is 90% built — why is the state holding up money to build the bridge?”
Despite having the inside scoop on all the behind-the-scenes political bargaining, Giesbrecht didn’t have a simple answer to Aranda’s question. “Ultimately, [Abbott] is the governor, and this is his bridge.”
Governor Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment.
The bridge project is part of a larger push to increase trade between the Permian Basin, Chihuahua and beyond. MOTRAN, the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance, has been a vocal supporter of bridge improvements. “Our area is the most prolific oil and gas-producing area in the entire world,” MOTRAN President James Beauchamp wrote in a letter to officials from the state of Chihuahua on June 7. “MOTRAN … has a long history and connection to Chihuahua and Sinaloa. Connections to other economies provide tremendous economic opportunities.”
With a new rail bridge in the works just downstream from the motor vehicle bridge, the linked economies of Presidio and Ojinaga are primed for takeoff. The timeline for resumption of rail service between the two countries has yet to be determined, but could provide an avenue for job creation and increased trade.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Giesbrecht explained that the governor of Chihuahua, Maru Campos, was excited about the bridge sparking another kind of economic development: tourism. “She’s really looking more at the tourism side and the trade side of the project, with Big Bend National Park — that’s what she’s always talked about,” he explained. “There’s been a dream of connecting the Big Bend with Copper Canyon.”
The PIPA board is currently soliciting bids for a firm to help write a master plan for the Presidio Port of Entry, prioritizing projects that will take advantage of all the new opportunities expected in the wake of both bridge projects. County Judge Cinderela Guevara, who also sits on the PIPA board, floated the idea of more air commerce. “I’d like to see the [Presidio] airport actually used as an international airport,” she said.
Giesbrecht said that officials in Ojinaga had also expressed interest in building their own international airport, and were hoping to kickstart beef exports from the Big Bend region to Chihuahua. The commissioners were tickled by his description of one mode of international cattle transport pitched by Grupo Mexico. “They’re willing to design something like the electric walkway they have at airports. The cattle get on it, and it starts moving,” Giesbrecht said.
The bridge update — and all the possibilities for growth it entailed— were a breath of fresh air for the commissioners. “We just wanted to hear all the good news,” said Commissioner Brenda Bentley.