McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Federal, state and local border leaders, including Mexican officials, gathered at McAllen City Hall on Wednesday to celebrate the signing of a historic agreement that will give the Rio Grande Valley its second cargo international bridge with Mexico.

The Donation Acceptance Program agreement that was signed has been in the works for decades, and it even took a change in the state law that restructured how municipalities can raise money for international bridge expansions.

Since 2016, leaders with the border cities of McAllen and Mission and Granjeno have actively been pursuing efforts to expand the Anzalduas International Bridge, which connects to Reynosa, Mexico, to handle fully loaded trucks. Local leaders believe it will be a boost to the economy, generate millions in bridge revenue, and add regional jobs.

Former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was on hand for the bridge cargo agreement signing on Monday, Dec. 1, 2021, at McAllen City Hall. He serves on the Anzalduas International Bridge Board. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

The City of McAllen even gave over $1 million in taxpayer funds to improve the infrastructure on the Mexican side of the bridge to jump-start the process — something that former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling told Border Report was unheard of along the Southwest border.

“When we first started it was a lot of noes, ‘Can’t help you,’ and it picked up when we said, ‘We’re going to do it ourselves if we can’t get any help.’ So that’s what we did and then we got the help,” said Darling, who sits on the Anzalduas International Bridge Board. “It’s a cumulation of a lot of work by a lot of different people.”

Under the agreement, the municipalities have committed to giving the federal government a portion of the bridge, including buildings for cargo inspection and land that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials will need to properly funnel incoming commercial trucks from Mexico.

In return, the municipalities will be allowed to keep the increased revenue once fully-loaded cargo trucks start crossing.

The Anzalduas International Bridge connects several South Texas cities to Reynosa, Mexico. And fully loaded commercial trucks could begin hauling cargo both ways by 2023 under a new agreement signed on Dec. 1, 2021. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

But that won’t happen for about two years, McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez told Border Report. And in the meantime, the city must help raise about $30 million for the $50 million expansion project.

Nevertheless, Rodriguez said he’s relieved to be moving the issue forward. And once the bridge opens it will be the second major international crossing in the Rio Grande Valley to allow fully loaded commercial trucks.

McAllen City Manager Roel ‘Roy’ Rodriguez, second from left, leads border leaders in McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in signing an agreement with the federal government for a cargo expansion project of the Anzalduas International Bridge. Mexican leaders from Reynosa are seen far right. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“It’s been a long long time. This is a project that really I’ve worked on my entire time here as city manager and it’s complicated. It’s a local government, the city of McAllen, dealing with the state of Texas, the U.S. federal government and the federal government of the nation of Mexico, and let me tell you, it doesn’t get more complicated than that,” said Rodriguez, who since 2013 has led this city of 150,000 in deep South Texas.

The Pharr International Bridge in Pharr, Texas, is the No. 1 port for the transport of produce into the United States from Mexico. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

The Pharr International Bridge, a few miles to the east, processes over $34 billion per year in trade with Mexico, and is the No. 1 port in the nation for the transport of produce from Mexico into the United States.

Local leaders in McAllen and Mission say they hope to get a bit of a corner on that very lucrative market in the upcoming years.

And they mentioned repeatedly the success that Laredo, Texas, a three-hour drive to the west, has had in making itself at one point the No. 1 port in the nation for commerce and goods, even surpassing the port of Los Angeles.

“We all have friends in Laredo but at the end of the day we have to work to bring more of that traffic to the Rio Grande Valley,” State Rep. Sergio Muñoz, a Democrat from Edinburg, told the leaders assembled Wednesday.

“Now with the Anzalduas coming on board trade will increase,” Texas state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa said. “The future for us here in Texas comes from the south.”

Hinojosa, who for years was vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told Border Report this bridge expansion is very important for the economic growth of the Rio Grande Valley.

Texas state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

“The trade with Mexico continues to grow yet we don’t have infrastructure in place to handle that type of growth and that is not good for our economy,” he said.

In order to reach this agreement, he said that it took an act by the Texas Legislature via Senate Bill 1334, which he co-sponsored, that now allows municipalities to donate toll bridge infrastructure to the federal government. The legislation also provides a funding mechanism for the municipalities to raise bonds from bridge tolls to help finance expansion projects, like this.

“We have been very active in passing legislation to try to help and allow the federal government to help us use local funding from the cities and counties and the private sector and the state to help them to invest in infrastructure we need to expand the growth of our bridges,” said Hinojosa, who lives in McAllen.

“The state of Texas is the ninth-largest economy in the world so this is a win-win for all of us, Mexico, the Valley, the state and our federal government,” he said.

Six lanes are slated for northbound truck traffic and four lanes for southbound traffic.

Once the expansion is completed, Rodriguez said the city will have gifted the X-ray machines, roads, scales and all necessary buildings for commercial truck crossing to the federal government. But he says it will be worth it.

“We’re blessed to be here today and we look forward to turning dirt soon,” Rodriguez said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at ssanchez@borderreport.com.