TxDoT funds new lanes at Presidio-Ojinaga bridge

March 3, 2016
In The News

It’s not an uncommon tale: persons traveling through the Presidio International Port of Entry are greeted by a long and sluggish line – particularly during weekends and holidays – on the two-lane bridge connecting Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Mexico.

Now, thanks to the Texas Transportation Committee, the long-planned and often-delayed bridge expansion initiative has been funded to build a new bridge next to the existing span, allowing traffic flow to effectively double to four lanes from two traffic lanes.

The bridge project is one of five border infrastructure projects that will be awarded funds that altogether total $60 million.

According to MOTRAN president James Beauchamp, who lobbied with local officials to get the project off the ground, the amount that has been funded has still not been finalized, but is estimated to be in the $9 million-to-$12 million range. The final price, he said, will be set by the market price for materials and labor once construction begins.

The Mexican government is expected to construct its half of the bridge, joining the TxDoT construction above mid-stream of the Rio Grande.

Construction crews at the Ojinaga port of entry have already started expanding its facilities.

“This is good (news) for the community,” Presidio Mayor John Ferguson said Friday. “We worked for such a long time and did what we had to do to make it happen. It’s nice to know that it’s just a matter of time until it gets built.”

MOTRAN, Beauchamp said, has involved itself in the project to support bi-national trade between the United States and Mexico. MOTRAN is a Permian Basin group of business leaders that effectively lobbied the Texas Legislature to deem US 67 as La Entrada al Pacifico. The acronym stands for Midland Odessa Transportation Alliance.

“We have been supportive of the bridge project because it’s necessary for businesses that work on both sides of the border,” Beauchamp explained, stating that trade between Presidio and Ojinaga is expanding with the upcoming chili plant and the expansion of Solitaire Mobile Homes, a maquiladora twin-plant operation.

The award through TxDoT, he also said, will keep the bridge under state operation, allowing the crossing to remain free of tolls for not only commercial traffic, but also for the citizens who cross the border each day. Mexico, however, charges a toll to exit the country and enter Presidio.

“Presidio and Ojinaga are really one big community,” he said. “There are people who go back and forth every single day for work or to shop, and keeping it free just makes it easier for everyone in the community.”

The Presidio Port of Entry, he also said, is the only state-owned international bridge in Texas, as most are operated by either the city or county in which the bridge is located.

Keeping the bridge in the hands of the state, Ferguson said, is also necessary to keep the bridge viable. The project, he said, has been in the planning stages for a long time, with the possibility of the city taking over the reigns. At one time, a toll to leave Presidio for Ojinaga was considered to pay for the expansion.

“It’s been a project in the making for a long time,” he said. “It’s gone from city-owned to being run by TxDoT, which I favor,” the mayor said. “The city won’t be responsible and we won’t have to run a toll bridge, which – even though the revenue does help operate cities – best I could grasp is that that it would take 20 years to pay off the construction of the bridge.”

The funds, Beauchamp explained, come from a now-defunct border corridor funding program that shut down over a decade ago. The funds have been locked away, unused, in state vaults and have only recently been rereleased into the state’s border infrastructure initiatives.

The future building of the bridge, Ferguson said, couldn’t have been possible without the work put into the proposals by Jake Griesbrecht and Brad Newton.

It’s also, he said, better late than never.

Presidio officials had help all along the political food chain.

“As House District 74 continues to grow and benefit from infrastructure projects, we will continue to fight for them,” said State Representative Poncho Nevárez said.

“The Border Trade Alliance was proud to work with Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn, U.S. Representative Will Hurd and others – including Chairman Schuster – to help make the CBI flex funding a reality,” said Noe Garcia, President of the Border Trade Alliance.