Pilot program seeks to reduce wait times at Pharr Bridge

PHARR — Federal authorities have implemented a pilot program at the international bridge here aiming to reduce northbound wait times, at times an issue for motorists.

The Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, the busiest commercial crossing in South Texas, sees in the vicinity of 50,000 trucks cross northbound each month, and all trucks are heavily inspected by Customs and Border Protection officers. The pilot program that began in January and is expected to last into April directs empty commercial trucks traveling northbound to take the same lanes as passenger vehicles and not have to be inspected alongside the large trailers full of commercial goods.

Only the tractors, not tractors with trailers attached, are permitted to use the passenger lanes as part of this pilot program. Three-axle empty trucks are permitted to use the lanes, according to Luis Bazan, Bridge Director at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.

Bazan, and authorities, are also seeing wait times reduced.

“This has allowed CBP to process more cargo shipments during the hours of operation of this pilot, thus alleviating prolonged wait times throughout the latter part of the day,” a CBP spokesman said in a statement. This pilot program runs Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

These empty trucks using the pilot program have been crossing the Pharr Bridge for years, Bazan said, but they’ve been lumped in the same lanes as full trucks. The empty northbound trucks total about 300 daily, Bazan said. And despite the somewhat uncertain future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, truck traffic numbers continue to increase year after year at the Pharr Bridge.

The pilot program began right as peak produce season was about to begin. The Pharr Bridge is the most popular border crossing for trucks carrying produce north into the United States, and with March being the busiest month, authorities were pleased with how wait times were reduced in February.

“During the ‘empties pilot’ conducted in February, CBP’s Pharr cargo facility has experienced less congestion within the main compound with diversion of 25 percent of the empty trucks through the vehicle lane,” a CBP spokesman wrote in an email.

The customers using the bridge have reported progress with the pilot program.

“What we’re from getting from customers — they’re saying it’s working great,” Bazan said.

If the program continues to prove effective, Bazan is hoping for an extension beyond April, and perhaps with more ambition. The next step, he said, is to ensure trucks can fit through other passenger lanes.

“There’s some structural engineering that needs to take place,” Bazan said. “But now that we know that the works, we need to have to the right dimensions for trucks to fit through another passenger lane, which is open for cars, so the empties don’t have to go through the various inspections that full cargo trucks do.”

Bazan added that he’s hoping to eventually be able to have full empty tractor trailers to go through at least one passenger lane, but that’s up to federal authorities. Whatever will help the traffic flow smoothly, he said.

“It’s all about the wait times,” Bazan said.