After years of delays, Presidio and Ojinaga celebrate expansion of international bridge
In a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, border officials celebrated the expansion of the Presidio-Ojinaga International Bridge after years of delays on the project.
The expansion, which first started in 2017, involved widening the bridge from two lanes to four and building a new pedestrian walkway in effort to ease traffic and spur cross-border trade opportunities.
The improvements were initially stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and later delayed because of deliberations over a binational agreement to resume the construction. The project was finally finished on Sept. 15 with the completion of the pedestrian bridge, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
“We’ve been waiting for this for so long,” Presidio County Judge Joe Portillo said at a celebration event Tuesday. “There were so many things that happened in between — you had Covid, you had construction issues, and then you had international agreements — so for this to finally be done, I think, is going to be a huge benefit to our community.”
The bridge improvements, officials said, had been sorely needed for years. While the port of entry in Presidio is one of the smallest of the 28 ports along the Texas-Mexico border, data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show traffic — commercial, personal and pedestrian — has grown since the early 2000s. Supporters of the expansion effort argued it was also needed to accommodate a newer kind of traffic: transmigrantes, Central Americans who make a living towing rusty cars from the U.S. to their home countries, hoping to resell their wares for a profit.
While transmigrante traffic hasn’t crowded the Presidio port of entry as much as some local officials had feared, county commissioner David Beebe said their numbers have grown.
At Tuesday’s event, Portillo said he looks forward to the trade opportunities that could come with the new lane additions. He pointed to the kind of activity larger ports in South Texas see, and said there’s a huge commercial potential for both Presidio and Ojinaga.
“There’s always room for growth and we have to start doing that,” Portillo said. “We have to start recognizing that for us to succeed economically, we have to get into the game.”
Portillo said he doesn’t think the Presidio port of entry will ever reach the level of other ports in Texas, but he believes there are now new opportunities for development that both Presidio and Ojinaga could take advantage of.
“We had probably about $800 million worth of commerce, international trade between Ojinaga and Presidio last year,” said Portillo. “So what we do in a year and say two months, Laredo does in one day.”
Mexican officials echoed Portillo’s hopes that the lanes would bring about an economic boom for both sides of the border.
“I feel the next year, and part of this year, we’re going to see a lot of growth, a lot of growth for both Ojinaga and Presidio,” Ojinaga Mayor Andrés Ramos de Anda said in Spanish.
The upcoming holiday travel season will be a test of how well the new bridge additions help ease traffic delays and congestion, Portillo said, adding that he has been in talks with local officials to figure out what additional efforts the city can do to ease the increased traffic congestion the bridge typically sees during the holidays.