October 26, 2022 742 PM
PRESIDIO — At Wednesday’s meeting, Presidio County Commissioners received a promising update on the unfinished Presidio International Bridge — according to a contract specialist previously employed by the state agency overseeing the project, the cross-border legal agreement holding up the repairs could be on Governor Abbott’s desk by next week.
The project to expand the bridge was conceived 12 years ago but has been plagued with delays and broken promises over the past four, leaving locals concerned about long wait times in customs — and in the long term, about the ability of Presidio’s port economy to grow. The latest update leads local officials to believe the long wait could soon be over.
Blanca Serrano — a former contract specialist with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) who has been involved in the Presidio bridge project since its inception — gave commissioners an update through her work with the agency at her new private sector position. Serrano felt personally invested in the project — so much so that she delayed her retirement to try to see the project through to its completion. “I felt like I had to finish it no matter what,” she said.
Each step of the bridge expansion project is complex because it represents a collaboration between multiple agencies on both sides of the border. Bridge construction is completed in “spans,” or pieces of the bridge that must be completed before construction of another can begin.
Because of where the actual international border is located — marked by a bronze plaque on the bridge — the United States is responsible for roughly 75% of the bridge construction, which officially kicked off in the spring of 2018 and started to stall a year later. It took officials on the Mexican side until 2020 to get the funding for their spans, but once the money was secured, their construction was completed in eight months. Meanwhile, the half-finished American side of the bridge was left unfinished.
Commissioners last heard a presentation on the bridge back in July — in which they were also promised that construction would begin soon. Local officials were initially told in the spring that the hold up was thanks to the governor’s office — a memorandum of understanding that required his signature languished on his desk for four years. (Abbott’s office has not returned repeated requests for comment on this issue.)
The governor took so long that some officials who had signed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the Mexican side were no longer in office when the agreement was finally complete. The document had to be redrafted — but Serrano explained that the new MOU was being overnighted to officials representing SICT and CAPUFE, the two Mexican agencies overseeing bridge construction.
If all goes according to plan, the MOU will be back on the governor’s desk for signatures on Monday. Precinct 3 Commissioner Eloy Aranda was skeptical that the process would be simple, given the governor’s track record. “Is the governor on board to sign those papers as soon as he gets them?” he asked. Serrano indicated he was.
Once re-initiated, construction is only expected to take three months to complete — which will hopefully take place in early 2023. Local officials had originally hoped that the construction would be complete before the Día de los Muertos, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, which see record-high wait times on the bridge. “It’s too bad things can’t be wrapped up before the holidays start,” said County Judge Cinderela Guevara.
County and port officials have a tentatively-scheduled meeting with the contractor — Earth Builders out of Hurst, Texas — on November 7. One of the main problems the contractor will face is evaluating the status of all the materials that were left on the bridge when construction stalled — many of them will have to be replaced because of how much they’ve deteriorated over the past few years.
Serrano expressed optimism about the contractor’s ability to pick up where they left off. “They’ve been very, very patient with us,” she said.