A new bridge under construction on the border is nearly complete on the Texas side but Mexico has not started building its half of the structure.
The Tornillo-Guadalupe Bridge towers over pecan groves and cotton fields. The new border crossing sits on 117 acres and once completed will be the largest inland port of entry in the United States.
But right now it’s a bridge to nowhere.
“We can’t see anything. No workers.” said a Texas construction worker looking towards Mexico.
The governments of both the U.S. and Mexico approved the project to ease border traffic in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez region where 10 million vehicles a year cross the border.
Texas started construction in June 2011 but Mexico has yet to begin work.
The U.S. federal government’s share of the cost is $92 million and includes state of the art facilities for Custom and Border Protection officers to screen, visitors, vehicles and trucks entering the country.
El Paso County taxpayers are spending $47 million for the new structure including a toll facility.
“Everything is on track for our side,” said Vince Perez, the El Paso County Commissioner who represents the area where the bridge is being built.
As far as what’s happening south of the border, “We can’t talk directly with Mexico,” said Perez. Communication is handled at the federal level.
County officials say they were told Mexico would meet the year end deadline.
But a change in presidential administrations in Mexico is part of the reason for the delay.
The previous administration approved the building of the new bridge but funds for Mexico’s share of the cost, about $27 million, were not set aside.
Mexican authorities say the project remains a priority and an announcement about progress is expected in the coming weeks.
The issue came up recently at The Border Conference on U.S. – Mexico Competitiveness Agenda hosted by the University of Texas in El Paso and Council of the Americas.
“It has been built on the U.S. side and the bridge literally gets to half of the river and the Mexico side, my Mexico, has not even started,” said Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez, director of the North American Development Bank known as the NAD Bank.
“That is too costly for everyone. That is terrible for taxpayers” said Gutierrez. He said there should be a bi-national trust or some other joint funding mechanism to ensure border infrastructure projects agreed to by both countries have funding set aside.
This is not the first construction delay for a border crossing.
The U.S. government held up construction to expand the San Isidro Port of Entry in California because of funding problems while Mexico finished its half of the project on time.
El Paso County expects to finish its share of the Tornillo-Guadalupe bridge within 60-90 days which is ahead of the original year end deadline.
The General Services Administration has since revised the deadline to March 2014.
In an email response to a question about a possible missed deadline, the GSA’s Public Affairs Officer for the Southwest Region, Tina Jaegerman said,
“Our contingency plan is to connect the new United States port to the old bridge for noncommercial traffic in the event that the Mexican side is not complete when the United States side is ready to be occupied,”
Three family members headed south of the border on the old bridge in a pickup truck each said right now “nothing” is happening in Mexico.