October 18, 2023 647 PM
PRESIDIO — On Tuesday morning, officials from both sides of the border attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the newly completed Presidio International Bridge. State Representative Eddy Morales made a guest appearance, as well as staff from the offices of state Senator César Blanco, the City of Presidio and the Municipio de Ojinaga, Presidio County Commissioners Court and CAPUFE, the Mexican agency dedicated to roads and bridges.
The event was — by many accounts — long overdue. The project to expand the bridge from two lanes to four lanes began in 2018, with an initial projected end date of summer 2019. Construction stalled from the beginning of the pandemic to the fall of 2022, when Governor Greg Abbott gave the green light for construction to begin again.
Despite being touted as a symbol of collaboration between the United States and Mexico, CAPUFE finished its half of the project on schedule — leaving the United States lagging through the aftershocks of the pandemic, presidential elections in both countries and chronic miscommunication between Governor Abbott and Mexican officials.
Orchestrating any kind of construction is especially complex because the Presidio International Bridge is the only international bridge owned by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), rather than by a private entity or a smaller local government.
All international construction projects must first earn a stamp of approval from the President of the United States — but the Presidio bridge requires an additional bureaucratic hurdle in the form of state approval.
After nearly five years of delays and thorny politics, the ceremony on Tuesday was all smiles. A host of speakers — ranging from elected representatives and Customs and Border Protection officials and TxDOT engineers — gave remarks in the shade of the busy customs checkpoint on the American side.
Cassandra Urrutia, district and legislative director for the office of Sen. Blanco, said that the bridge was more than just an infrastructure project to be checked off the list. “This bridge represents more than just steel and concrete,” she said. “It represents the bringing together of two communities.”
After the speakers wrapped up their remarks, invitees walked along the two new lanes for a formal ceremony at the international boundary. Dignitaries including Gamaliel Bustillos of the Consulado de México in Presidio, Presidente Municipal de Ojinaga Andrés Ramos Deanda, County Judge Joe Portillo and Mayor of Presidio John Ferguson were given scissors to cut a ribbon strung between the two countries.
Judge Portillo felt that the ribbon-cutting was a sign of good things to come — a symbol of what he hoped was positive growth and expansion for the economies of Presidio and Ojinaga.
Portillo is quick to cite trade statistics between the United States and Mexico — earlier this year, Mexico unseated Canada as the country’s biggest trading partner, touting nearly $263 billion in bilateral trade in just four months.
He’s hoping to eventually see another bridge built — this time, specifically for commercial trade. Though he acknowledged that that goal was a long way off, he hoped to see facilities to grow agricultural trade, including cold storage, a USDA inspection station and the establishment of a Foreign Trade Zone.
Though Portillo has high hopes, he remains realistic. “We’ll never be El Paso,” he said, referring to the city’s oversized share of 20% of all land port trade along the United States and Mexico border. “But I feel an energy, and I feel like it’s our time.”