PHARR — The Pharr international bridge has seen three straight months of declining vehicle crossings and extended wait times since President Trump threatened to close the southern border in late March and the subsequent reassignment of hundreds of Customs officers despite various pilot programs to curtail those impacts.
In June 2018, 107,410 total vehicles crossed the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, the only full-service commercial bridge in the area that brings in about $13 million a year in revenues to the City of Pharr.
In June 2019, however, 104,468 total vehicles crossed the bridge, down nearly 3,000 vehicles when compared to last year’s figures.
In May 2019, there was a decline of 10,165 total vehicle crossings when compared to the same time frame last year, and in April, there was a 12,211 reduction.
Despite the declining numbers, which a bridge consultant on Wednesday chalked up to Trump’s border closure threat, U.S. Customs and Border Protection ‘readiness’ and problems in Mexico, the city’s monthly revenues have stayed flat. Trucks have bottlenecked at the bridge for hours on end since April, but the wait times have dropped a bit since.
“I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer or a bearer of bad news,” Eddie Gutierrez, a consultant for the bridge, told the bridge board of directors on Wednesday before launching into a presentation about the state of affairs at the bridge and how other border issues are affecting it. But Gutierrez’s news about the external factors affecting the bridge — such as Trump’s rhetoric towards the border, national immigration issues and CBP officer reassignments — was evident.
“It sounds bad,” said Tony Martinez, a board member who has worked in produce trade for years. “But it’s reality.”
Pharr Bridge Director Luis Bazan and other bridge staff, as well as Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, acknowledged the reality as well. Martinez, Hernandez and others praised Bazan and his staff for the various adjustments they’ve made to help alleviate the traffic.
The latest effort, announced last week, was to open the northbound lanes crossing from Mexico into the United States only for commercial trucks. Passenger vehicles can now only travel northbound over the Pharr bridge from 4 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays. There have been no changes to the southbound lanes going from Pharr into Reynosa. This new effort to reduce wait times will be monitored and discussed by Pharr officials in collaboration with representatives from the trade community.
“These pilot programs are being implemented as a result of the reduced Customs and Border Protection personnel at the port and deployed to the Southern border as mandated by the federal government,” Pharr officials said in a statement last week announcing the new crossing times.
Even with this trade disruption, Pharr has still collected slightly more in revenues from April to June 2019 than in the same three-month span in 2018. The Pharr Bridge brought in $1.2 million in June 2019 compared to just over $1.1 million in the same month last year. Officials pointed to the pilot programs as the reason for maintaining a mostly flat revenue stream from the bridge. And commercially, though longer wait times have affected business, truck traffic did not dip, despite the overall drop in traffic. There were 668 more trucks that crossed the bridge in June 2019 than in that same month in 2018.
“There’s only so much we can do to keep the bridge open and business flowing,” Martinez said. “Our job is to maintain, and stay afloat and stay proactive to try to avoid these issues.”