‘Tis the season for fireworks, but the fireworks going off Tuesday morning during the Del Rio International Bridge Board regular monthly meeting may have been too hot for anyone to handle.
Agenda items — which were by no means small or otherwise unimportant — were not at the center of a heated argument, though.
The board meeting touched upon reserves for future construction, they were presented an update by Economic Development Director Oriana Fernandez, and they heard the quarterly reports.
Fernandez spoke about an expansion project to the City of Del Rio International Bridge.
City officials and the Economic Development Corporation have been discussing this project, in conjunction with Customs and Border Protection officials, which is expected to facilitate international crossings, especially for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) travelers, as well as commercial vehicles.
Today, the corporation will have their own meeting, and will be voting on a resolution to authorize up to $1 million to assist with the preliminary design and construction of a two-lane roadway at the international bridge.
The project, if completed, would help the city become more attractive and more competitive for international traffic and trade, while competing with other border towns such as Eagle Pass and Laredo.
The Ports-to-Plains corridor, an international project trying to connect Canada with Mexico’s Pacific coast while creating a trade passageway throughout the Central United States, has considered Del Rio as one of its most important points for many years.
Becoming an expedited crossing hub, either by facilitating international crossing at the Del Rio International Bridge or by building a new international bridge, would be a tremendous argument in favor of bringing more commercial traffic, thus increasing the city’s revenue.
This year the city of Del Rio is operating on a $78 million budget, $8.5 million of which comes directly from the international bridge.
The bridge not only represents 10.9 percent of the city’s annual budget, it is also the city’s most profitable asset in terms of revenue vs. required maintenance.
The city of Del Rio is facing fierce competition along the Texas-Mexico border.
The Eagle Pass-Piedras Negras border represents a more direct route to the south, following Mexico’s Federal 57 Highway.
Eagle Pass already has two international bridges, with one of them having a lane especially dedicated to commercial traffic.
The commercial traffic lane in Del Rio would be shared with SENTRI travelers along the bridge, and it wouldn’t split until the last stretch of the bridge on the U.S. side.
While Del Rio is talking about building a second international bridge, in Eagle Pass they have been working on their third bridge for a few years.
Laredo, on the other hand, is another prime port of entry for international trade.
Their bridge system has four international bridges and the port is one of the most important trade hubs in the U.S., trailing only to the Los Angeles and New York City customs districts.
During the International Bridge Board meeting, the discussion of the last item on the agenda included an argument that had nothing to do with all these figures and projects, the discussion between board members and city administrators focused on the fact that board members will no longer be allowed to sit on the city council seats.
A secretary informed board members, they said, the meetings from now on would be conducted at a table setup in front of the council seats.
The move upset board members, not because they were told to seat elsewere, but because of the way they were informed of the new policy, with no prior notification.
Board members present at the meeting were former Mayor Dora Alcala, Anna Chapman, Al Cervantes and Frank Mendoza, all of them business people and outstanding members of the community dedicating their time and expertise to making decisions worth millions of dollars for the community.
In diplomacy some times is not the content but the form what matters, and the board members felt disrespected by the move.
With a new trade agreement coming up and facing a very competitive race amongst ports of entry, it is in the best interest of the community to unite and not divide all sectors in Del Rio, to pull together and complete these infrastructure projects the best way we can.
Rubén Cantú has been a journalist since 1995. He is the managing editor of the Del Rio News-Herald.
Contact him at email@example.com