McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — In the latest gesture symbolizing the strong relationship between one South Texas city and its “sister city” south of the border, the mayor of McAllen on Monday donated a city-owned septic truck to the city of Reynosa, Mexico.
Reynosa is located just 6 miles south of McAllen and Monday’s donation of a 12-year-old vacuum truck to its vecino (neighbor) came after both cities late last month celebrated the multi-million dollar expansion of an international bridge over the Rio Grande, which connects the two.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling told Border Report on Monday that both cities are one economic region, which share businesses, families, a similar culture and good times and bad times — as the COVID-19 crisis has shown.
“We’ve had a great relationship with the city of Reynosa. We’re sister cities and more than that many of our citizens have relatives in Reynosa, certainly our roots come from northern Mexico and so it’s important. We’re tied in a lot of different ways: maquilas and businesses, friends and neighbors, literally everything,” Darling said.
There were a lot of grateful comments — in English and Spanish — as Darling handed over the keys to the truck to Reynosa Mayor Maki Esther Ortiz Dominguez in a McAllen City Hall parking lot, and said he was thankful for the Mexican delegation’s visit on Monday, especially during this pandemic.
“Thank you Mayor Darling. Thank you all of you for helping us,” Ortiz said in English.
Darling lamented that the coronavirus pandemic has prevented more cross-border trade and travel among the two cities and nations, but remained optimistic that travel restrictions could soon be eased by the Trump administration to allow for non-essential workers to cross the bridges and visit the border cities.
“We think it’s safe down there to do it. We’d like to see hopefully the election over and it’s less politicized and take a look from the standpoint of health and the economy — with health coming first always — and go ahead and open up to non-essentials,” Darling said.
Travel restrictions were imposed on March 20 by the Trump administration to allow only essential workers to cross at international ports to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But in a visit to the Rio Grande Valley last month, Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said the administration was starting to have discussions with local border communities to determine if restrictions can be eased on a community-by-community basis.
Wolf’s visit to McAllen on Oct. 29 — to commemorate the 400th mile of border wall built by the Trump administration — came on the same day, and at the same time that Darling and Ortiz were attending a ceremony for the expansion of the Anzalduas International Bridge just a few miles away.
The $2.8 million expansion project involved federal, state, and local resources and resulted in the addition of two more northbound lanes for traffic coming from the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas into South Texas.
“It’s infrastructure like the Anzalduas bridge that is going to grow the economy and create a better future for our children and grandchildren,” said Texas Rep. Terry Canales, a Democrat who chairs the Texas House Transportation Committee.
“We must build the necessary infrastructure to travel and trade freely and to grow South Texas businesses within their communities and beyond,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents this region. “The expansion of the Anzalduas Bridge from four to six lanes will further grow our economy, increase tourism, strengthen trade and investment, and create jobs on both sides of the border.”
The addition of northbound bridge lanes and two new inspection booths came after the City of McAllen in 2015 invested over $1 million of city funds to expand two additional southbound lanes on the bridge and added an inspection station on Mexican soil. Some U.S. citizens, at the time, criticized the city for spending U.S. taxpayer funds south of the border, but Darling, who is chairman of the McAllen-Hidalgo and Anzalduas International Bridge Boards, said it is an investment that has encouraged cross-border trade and travel. And he said he hopes those revenues will improve once travel restrictions are lifted.
Currently, bridge traffic is down about 50%, from 80,000 vehicles per month to 40,000 vehicles, city officials said.
“We make money on people going southbound. They make money on people going northbound on the bridge so it is an example of you don’t do anything without each other. We’ve actually reaped the benefits of that,” Darling told Border Report on Monday.
Monday’s truck ceremony, beneath a grove of towering king palm trees, was much less formal than the bridge ceremony, and Darling even drove the truck from one end of the parking lot to the other. Then he joked that he and Ortiz were going to drive it over the Anzalduas together (which they didn’t.)
Reynosa this past year purchased three similar trucks, which are used to clean up wastewater and debris and to unplug sewer lines, and which cost about $270,000 for each new unit. Ortiz said they were most appreciative of the donation, which is much needed as her city’s economy is suffering because of the COVID-19 crisis.
“This is a grand gift and is significant. I come here to represent the reynosenses who say thanks from our hearts,” she said in Spanish. “We have families and businesses and we will always be connected,”
“It is better to give than to receive,” McAllen Public Utility General Manager Mark Vega said in Spanish. “Thanks for coming.”