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Officials break ground on $60M Donna international bridge expansion

BY DINA ARÉVALO

STAFF WRITER

DONNA — Local leaders gathered here Wednesday to celebrate the start of a $60 million expansion of the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge with an official groundbreaking ceremony.

Construction on the project to add commercial traffic lanes to the bridge got underway Sept. 16, with the city kicking off a press tour days later. Wednesday’s groundbreaking capped off a month of celebrating, with officials from the city, county, and representatives from both Congressmen Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez’s office, along with Sen. John Cornyn’s office joining in the ceremony.

Local law enforcement were also on hand, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s a great day for the city of Donna,” said Donna City Manager Carlos Yerena after the group of dignitaries marked the occasion by turning earth with ceremonial golden shovels.

“To finally see this project realized is important and it’s very historic for our community. We’re excited about this project happening,” Yerena added a few moments later.

The expansion will occur in two phases, with the first being a sevenmonth- long project to build southbound lanes for empty tractor trailers. The project is expected to wrap up around next April, just in time for the second phase of construction to begin — the loaded northbound commercial lanes.

Yerena was particularly excited about how the expansion will make the Donna bridge a model port, incorporating various technologies found at other bridges to make this bridge state-of-the-art. “This particular project incorporates all the technology into one place. The technology that we have is top of the line,” Yerena said.

That technology includes dual inspection stations located on the U.S. side of the bridge, two X-ray machines, and nonintrusive inspection technology that will allow the processing of up to 100 commercial trucks per hour, the city manager said.

“This is awesome. This is an awesome day for Donna, an awesome day for the Mid-Valley,” Mayor Rick Morales said after the ceremony.

Morales said he has seen the international bridge project evolve since the early 2000s — before even the passenger lanes had been built, and back when there was little belief that the city could construct a bridge, despite having a permit to do so since 1979.

“I was there at the beginning. People told me I was crazy, that we would never get a bridge done. Now, here we are 15 years later,” Morales said.

The port’s passenger lanes opened in 2010; however, plans to have commercial lanes completed by 2012 stalled for years.

Meanwhile, the successful expansion of the commercial lanes also hinges on the completion of several peripheral improvement projects, including the widening and paving by TxDOT of the road leading to the port of entry, as well as a half a million dollar improvement project on the Mexican side of the border, Yerena explained during a bridge board meeting last month.

The expansion project is projected to cost $60 million. Of that, the city has obtained $25 million in grant funding from TxDOT and CBP. The

See

Officials in Donna officially broke ground on a $60 million commercial expansion of the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge Wednesday morning in Donna. Among them, from left: State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., Donna City Councilmen Arturo Castillo and Eloy Avila Jr. Fifth from left, Donna Mayor Rick Morales, and Donna Councilman Joey Garza Jr, far right.

Dina Arévalo | darevalo@mvtcnews.com

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