Rio Hondo Bridge Delay Concerns Local Business Owners
RIO HONDO – Rio Hondo city officials have submitted requests to the governor's office, asking for economic help as the re-opening of the lift bridge has been pushed back yet again.
The lift bridge has been closed since September 2016. They say that's crippled some businesses, forcing some to even shut down.
Cesar Lucio thought he had the dates of the opening of his restaurant in Rio Hondo and the re-opening of the lift bridge in sync, but he was wrong.
Texas Department of Transportation officials said the bridge would reopen at the end of April. They announced last week, the reopening wouldn't happen until June or July.
Lucio is hoping that opening his restaurant now doesn’t leave him struggling for customers, like other local businesses.
"Let's give it a try I mean there's nothing else," says Lucio.
Rio Hondo City Manager Ben Medina said the bridge will reopen, so now they have to focus on how the state can help businesses economically to make them more attractive to both old and new customers for when that time comes.
"The bridge will open. It's going to open soon and it's going to bring traffic," he says. "We want to make downtown attractive. It's going to be the gateway to Laguna Atascosa, Laguna Vista. It'll be a short distance to go to South Padre Island. So, we're going to get more people from Hidalgo County and from northern Willacy County.
Medina said they are asking the state to help with remodeling storefronts, improving sewer and water infrastructure, and offer low-interest loans to help businesses expand or for new businesses to set up shop.
Lucio started off with a hand-made sign to advertise his business, now he’s improved to one made professionally. He said he hasn't been able to finish painting the building or removing old signs. He'll take all the help he can get to draw people in.
"Maybe 50 percent of the people that used to drive through here, now they go to San Benito, like the ones that live on the other side of the bridge, they go straight to San Benito or Harlingen," Lucio says. "They don't come to Rio Hondo like they used to."
Medina says the Rio Hondo Economic Development Council is also working to review requests for help from businesses, whether it be with purchasing paint, paying partial employee salaries or helping pay for grand openings.
Lucio is hoping the excitement of having a new business in town, will help carry his restaurant to the new reopening date for the lift bridge.
Despite the struggles some business owners have described, Medina adds, the overall sales-tax revenue for Rio Hondo is holding on.
He said after a dip of about $4,000 from February to March, the sales-tax revenue from March to April went up $2,000.