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20101231_Anzalduas-BridgeMISSION — As the newest gateway into the United States, the Anzalduas International Bridge was called the port of the future, offering visitors a quick trip to a first-class destination spot that can only grow in the coming years, business leaders say.

The bridge celebrated its first year earlier this month, and expectations continue to grow as Mission expands with hopes of new businesses and roadways that would make the demand on the bridge even greater.

“We’re looking at requesting additional lanes,” said Rigo Villarreal, the bridge director. “We really need it.”

Attractive for Monterrey, Mexico travelers with a direct drive to the United States, the Anzalduas bridge is also popular for maquiladora employees who work right across the border.

The bridge opened on Dec. 15, 2009, with its inauguration in January where Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón, along with Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas, said the addition of a commercial lane would be would be crucial to easing the load of traffic on other local bridges.

The $43 million bridge features four entrance lanes with a SENTRI Lane on the United States side. The bridge span is over three miles with four lanes and a pedestrian walkway.

Last year, officials said they anticipated seeing approximately 4,000 vehicles traveling through here once word of the new bridge had traveled. According to bridge officials, on the one-year anniversary, the Anzalduas bridge had reported that 2,573 vehicles had gone to Mexico through here.

Other statistics show that buses have increased drastically. Over 40 buses passed through the southbound lane in December 2009. In November, bridge officials said 303 buses passed through the southbound lane.

The bridge’s presence doesn’t just serve Mission as the newest and quickest way to get in and out of the country, it also brings the prospect for a business boom in the city.

“Mission has a tremendous potential for growth,” said Mission Economic Development Authority’s President/CEO Pat Townsend Jr. “There is still a significant potential because of the land available.”

While the numbers of vehicles crossing hasn’t met the initial estimates, Townsend said the road construction makes it tough for people unfamiliar with the area. Once the construction is complete, it’ll be a quick, seamless trip to the bridge and into Mission.

“That disruption alone keeps the bridge from reaching full potential,” Townsend said.

Violence along the Mexican border also plays a role in the traffic coming to the United States, he added. Meanwhile, Villarreal said traffic at all bridges decreased after a new Mexican law forces individuals to have a prescription in order to purchase medication.

The ongoing construction of Anzalduas Highway and the restructuring of the Bryan Road overpass should make it easier for motorists to come in and out of the city and country, Townsend added.

Although some motorists haven’t used the bridge yet for travel in and out of Mexico, long lines at Anzalduas prove the bridge was long overdue.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Wait Times website, on Tuesday afternoon, it took nearly two hours for a motorist to pass through one of the three open lanes. For SENTRI cardholders, there was no reported delay. Meanwhile at the Hidalgo International Bridge, 10 of the 13 lanes were open with a 55-minute delay; the Pharr International Bridge had six lanes open with a 25-minute delay.

“Things must be good if your original design is maxed out,” Townsend said of lines at Anzalduas bridge.

Villarreal said he encourages residents to apply for the SENTRI card, which includes a thorough background check, as it eliminates any delay.

“We don’t have enough people using it,” Villarreal said of the single SENTRI lane.

To address delays, Villarreal, who began working as the director in October, replacing George Ramon, said he’s already begun talks with congressional leaders and is headed to Washington, D.C. to request the bridge get five additional lanes. Each lane is estimated to cost around $1.1 million.

“We’re going to ask for the top with five lanes to get somewhere in the middle with two or three,” Villarreal said. “This bridge was needed and it will continue to do better.”

While officials look at addressing lines at the bridge, local economic leaders are continuing to push for a commercial lane. But seeking a commercial lane is tougher when it comes to funding sources.

“It’s not as simple as the city making the decision to remodel,” Townsend said. “It’s not that quick with the federal government. It’ll take a lot of negotiation and funding.”

According to a 1999 Presidential Permit for the bridge, the construction of a cargo import facilities cannot start until 2015. The permit, which is available on the U.S. Department of State’s website, states a commercial lane could be constructed if the Pharr International Bridge northbound traffic reaches 15,000 per week.

Villarreal said commercial lane plans aren’t a priority until bridge officials work on additional lanes for passenger vehicles first.

“Because we’re a new bridge, it’ll take a while, but we need five additional lanes,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mission is poised to benefit from the bridge at any stage. Matt Ruszczak, the Mission Chamber of Commerce executive director/CEO, said the bridge makes the city the first stop for shopping and dining. The city continues to see an increase in its sales and hotel/motel taxes as well as increased traffic around the most dynamic part of town for potential new residents in the Shary Road and Expressway 83 area.

“This is a great showcase for our community,” Ruszczak said. “They’re going to drive around and look around. They’ll visit NABA, Bentsen State Park and even the neighborhoods here.”

Mexican visitors who look to buy weekend homes or become permanent residents are set to look in Mission first once arriving in the United States, he added.

And with the new traffic in the city, businesses will be lured to establish themselves here, also.

“I am very confident that once Anzalduas Highway gets finished and Bryan Road gets finished, we’ll see growth in that area,” Ruszczak said. “That area is really prime.”

Ruszczak said visitors like the Anzalduas bridge because they’re able to avoid Reynosa traffic.

“You don’t have that hassle,” he said of the bridge.

The chamber has continued its efforts in attracting Mexican visitors with its “Go Mission” campaign and is working on new promotions for 2011 with the bridge as one of its biggest attractions.

“We were all hoping for more,” he said of Mexican traffic, “but with time and improvements in construction and on the Mexican side, we’ll see even bigger numbers. It’s like a chicken and the egg situation, but our future is extremely bright.”

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