Task force aims to reduce heavy traffic at Pharr Bridge

San Rey trucks are seen at a produce terminal in Pharr on Tuesday, April, 2, 2019 at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

PHARR — A binational group of customs brokers, maquiladora leaders, customs officers and the city of Pharr have formed an “Anti Wait Times Task Force” aimed at thinning out the thick traffic at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.

Since President Donald Trump in late March threatened to close the border, followed by the reassignment of hundreds of customs officers from ports of entry along the border to assist Border Patrol with immigration overflows, trucks crossing the bridge from Mexico into the United States have waited for hours, at some points well over 10, according to truck drivers and maquiladora managers.

The bridge has had to adjust on the fly, with Pharr Bridge Director Luis Bazan announcing multiple pilot programs in recent weeks in hopes of alleviating some of the backups. Those programs have included allowing only commercial trucks to cross the bridge northbound, followed by an adjustment to that program that allowed passenger vehicles to cross northbound during certain hours.

The bridge in Pharr sees more than 50,000 commercial trucks cross from Mexico into the U.S. each month, much of which is produce, the most popular produce crossing in the country. Of all the commercial trucks that cross northbound every day, Edgar Zamorano, a Reynosa delegate for Mexico’s national chamber of commerce for cargo trade, said 40% of those trucks are empty.

Part of a new pilot program, endorsed by Zamorano and the rest of the task force, makes for one lane on the bridge specifically dedicated to empty trucks, since their U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection process is slightly simpler than the inspections for trucks full of cargo.

The bridge brings the city of Pharr roughly $13 million annually from southbound toll fees, and none of the southbound crossings have been affected by the recent extended delays. But trade flows both directions, and bridge officials have noted that traffic needs to move comfortably going north and south.

“We’ve been trying different programs, see what works, hoping to speed up the wait times,” Bazan said. “We’re going to keep trying.”