March 29, 2023 646 PM
PRESIDIO — Last week, Presidio County Judge Joe Portillo led a tour of the newly-active construction site on the Presidio International Bridge. Precincts 1 and 4 commissioners Brenda Silva Bentley and David Beebe tagged along to see crews hard at work finishing a project that has stalled on and off for five years.
In 2017, the Trump administration signed off on a project authorizing construction on the bridge — both countries planned to build a two-lane bridge parallel to the existing bridge in the hopes of cutting down on customs wait times and to expanding the bridge’s business potential.
The Mexican government finished its half of the project in 2020 after a brief pause due to COVID — construction on the American side was also stalled during this time but never picked back up in earnest. Traffic on the bridge continued to grow during these years, but both cargo and private vehicles experienced significant, frustrating delays.
Local officials were then subjected to a confusing stream of conflicting information: first they were told that the delay was thanks to TxDOT, who owns the bridge. TxDOT representatives then told the city that they were waiting on Gov. Abbott’s office — then later pinned the blame on Mexican officials.
After a year and a half of promises that bridge construction would start within a few months, construction has actually begun. A crew from Earth Builders out of Hurst started staging materials a few weeks ago and began working in earnest last Monday, with an expected completion date of September 5.
Commissioner Brenda Silva Bentley — whose precinct includes a slice of Marfa, Shafter and Presidio — was excited to see that progress was being made. “It just feels good to know that they’re working on it again — it seems like it’s been going on forever,” she said.
Earlier this month, County Judge Joe Portillo petitioned both Presidio City Council and Presidio County Commissioners Court about the idea of turning the new bridge into its own independent port authority — the Presidio-Ojinaga Bridge is the only international crossing owned by TxDOT.
With more independence, Portillo hoped that the bridge could make its own money so that necessary improvements could be initiated in-house. “We have a lot of visitors and we welcome them, but they do have an impact,” Judge Portillo said at a Presidio City Council meeting on March 7. “It’s only fair for them to help us offset some of the costs so that everybody pays a fair share.”
Bentley supported the proposal with a few caveats. The new port authority would have the ability to charge tolls — folks hoping to cross back into the United States pay a small toll, but no tolls are charged leaving the United States. “I don’t want to put people in a predicament where they can’t afford to go across and come back,” she said.
Ultimately, the commissioners were hopeful that the re-initiated construction signaled a bright future for the bridge — a future where crossing between Presidio and Ojinaga was hassle-free. “I’d like to see it become a place that people like,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner David Beebe. “I’d like to see it where some days you don’t have to wait two or more hours to cross — there’s just no need for that.”