MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — An $83 million bridge expansion of a key port of entry in the Rio Grande Valley began Wednesday, and officials say it will help to increase trade travel from Mexico, and improve the air quality of the region because it will lessen wait times and smog at another nearby bridge.

When completed, the Anzalduas International Bridge — which connects Mission and McAllen, Texas, to Reynosa, Mexico — will be a fully commercial port of entry, allowing fully loaded commercial trucks to cross north and south of the border for the first time here.

Construction should take 11 months and the bridge should be open to trucks going back and forth by 2040. The project will include inspection stations to fully vet all cargo entering the United States from Mexico.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday, Oct. 26, to expand the Anzalduas International Bridge. The $83 million project will allow commercial trucks to travel north and south from Reynosa, Mexico. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Currently the Pharr International Bridge, about 25 miles east, is the only bridge leading to Mexico in the region that accepts loaded trucks. Over 750,000 commercial trucks crossed the Pharr International Bridge in Fiscal Year 2022, which was up 31% from Fiscal Year 2021, according to bridge reports.

Wait times in Pharr can be six to eight hours for truckers and that adds fumes and pollutants into the air as the trucks idle waiting to cross the bridge. Officials tell Border Report that by reducing congestion and offering an alternative route, it will help to clear up the air in the RGV.

“Environmentally this is so important, and from a standpoint of trading with Mexico it’s fantastic,” former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling told Border Report.

Jim Darling is former mayor of McAllen, Texas, and serves on the city’s bridge board. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Darling was in office when the process to request expansion from federal authorities first began during the Obama administration.

“This bridge is going to be important for the whole region,” he said.

“This groundbreaking is nothing short of historic. We have been working on this port of entry for many years. To get it to cargo it’s been more than eight years so quite simply what this expansion does it is doubles the truck capacity in Hidalgo County,” McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez told Border Report just before Wednesday’s ground-breaking ceremony began.

Rodriguez says they expect 800 trucks to pass through on the first day it is open.

An agreement for the expansion was signed in December between federal, state and local officials. But dirt hadn’t been turned until Wednesday.

“It’s a long, long road we traveled and I’m so happy we got here,” Juan Olaguibel, superintendent of bridges, said.

Local, state and federal representatives were present at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony to tout how it will benefit the region, the state and the country.

“The expansion of this bridge is an expansion of two countries and two economies,” Texas state Rep. Terry Canales, chairman of the Transportation Committee, who is from the Rio Grande Valley, said.

“This is just the beginning. We are going to be the No. 1 in moving trade,” Canales said.

“The entities that benefit the most is the state of Texas and the United States because of the magnitude of what happens here,” Rodriguez said.

Across the Rio Grande there are hundreds of industrial parks, or maquiladoras, that produce cellphone components, auto parts and other vital items necessary to the U.S. supply chain.

But often these parts are stuck south of the border and as diesel trucks wait to get across the bridge, they release harmful pollutants.

“What it’s going to do is make trucks move easier through here. It’s going to increase mobility so when you do that you lessen the carbon footprint,” Rodriguez said.

The Anzalduas International Bridge connects Reynosa, Mexico, to Mission, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Congestion will be improved so much that the federal government has awarded the City of McAllen a $25 million INFRA grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos said.

The Texas Department of Transportation also awarded a $22 million grant for the project.

And the North American Development Bank gave the city of McAllen a $63 million low-interest loan to be used for it.

A NADBank official told Border Report on Wednesday that the DOT INFRA grant had not yet arrived and they expected that the city would use those funds to help quickly pay back some of the $63 million loan, which has already been issued.

NADBank finances projects along the U.S. and Mexico border, which it believes will improve the environment. At a recent conference hosted ny NADBank he bank touted a new rail bridge in Laredo, as well as a binational river project being developed between Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Laredo.

“Investing in improved mobility, such as the Anzalduas expansion project, is an important piece of establishing a greener and more robust bi-national economic cooperation by reducing wait times, lessening economic losses, and improving air quality in region,” NADBank Deputy Managing Director John Beckham said. “The North American Development Bank was pleased to provide $63 million to finance the Gateway to Growth project at the Anzalduas International Bridge, because of its demonstrated environmental, economic and social benefits for not only the Rio Grande Valley and Tamaulipas, but also for the U.S. and Mexico.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com