PHARR — The lines at the bridge lasted more than 10 hours at times.
“It was bad,” Martin Arteaga said in early April, after crossing a load of bell peppers over the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in his truck from Mexico.
It was the beginning of a slog of a spring at the Pharr bridge, when trucks and passenger vehicles sat on the 3.2-mile span in jammed lines that President Donald Trump threatened to close at the border in late March. Not long after, hundreds of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers were reassigned from ports of entry to assist Border Patrol agents with immigration duties.
Pharr’s Bridge Director Luis Bazan and others in the South Texas international trade community pleaded for CBP to return the officers and help alleviate the bottlenecks at the crossings. Bazan’s plea for the agents to return was but one of several moves Pharr made in the spring and summer to navigate the challenges facing the bridge, which culminated in the city recording a record year in bridge revenues, totaling $14.6 million for the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year, which ended in September.
The bridge closed the fiscal year strong, earning $1.2 million in revenues in September, with 51,994 commercial trucks crossing the bridge southbound into Mexico in September and 53,388, all increases from September of last year.
“It was actually the best month for the entire fiscal year,” Director of Bridge Operations Fred Brouwen said this week when announcing the year-end number.
“And the produce season hadn’t even kicked in yet,” said Edgar Delgadillo, chair of the bridge’s board of directors.
But the bridge has changed face. Passenger vehicles and commercial trucks crossed the bridge in both directions for years, but in hopes of alleviating the traffic congestion in the spring, bridge officials made various adjustments to the hours of operation. Now, only commercial trucks can cross from Mexico into the United States over the bridge, aside from a few hours on weekends and early in the mornings.
In part because of some of the hours adjustments, car traffic at the bridge has declined in both directions, though Bazan said the bridge anticipated that. Despite the loss of cars, the revenues still increased.
“Everybody has lost car traffic,” Bazan said of the other international bridges in the region, adding that Pharr budgeted for a loss in car traffic. “We hope one day we can get back to some level of being normal. But we’ve adapted and the trade has adapted.”
Bazan pointed to partnerships with officials in Mexico and CBP for the various adjustments the bridge has made. And the bridge’s consultant, Eddie Gutierrez of Blue Stone Capital Solutions, showed bridge officials this week that revenues and truck crossings, for which the bridge is known, have continued to climb since 2014.
“As we continue on a positive trend, we’re adapting,” Bazan said. “And we’re going to make it work.”