As Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposes separating two neighboring countries with a wall, officials from Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico want to build bridges. More specifically, they hope to build a bike trail that will connect the two cities and give people a new way to travel back and forth. Currently, a rust-colored fence and the Rio Grande serves as a divider. But despite these borders, the two cities are interconnected in so many ways, now and throughout their histories.
When Union Pacific railroad no longer needed the route that crossed over the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge, it affected both sides of the border. According to CitiScope, Matamoros originally wanted to remove the tracks to make way for a six-lane highway that led to the B&M Bridge. To do this, they’d get rid of the switching yard as well as part of the Colonia Jardin neighborhood.
However, Mauricio Ibarra – the Mexican-born planning director for Matamoros who lives in Brownsville – talked officials out of this plan. It took months of lobbying, but he eventually persuaded them to just create a two-lane highway. Xochitl Marmolejo Garcia, a planner who works with Ibarra, came up with the idea for a bike path. “We had been talking about promoting mobility other than the automobile,” she said. “Our new plan was born.”
But they want to do more than just add the new path. They wanted to strengthen their ties to their sister city. So they devised a plan for a Binational Cultural Center – complete with museums, open theater areas, and music schools. In order to make the binational urban arts district a reality, Ibarra had to get Brownsville on board. Initially, the Texas city planned to remove the rails to create a road. Now, officials have come around and back Ibarra. Brownsville plans to build a bike path to connect Linear Park – which neighbors a zoo and the city’s cultural district – to the B&M bridge. “Their project ends where ours begins,” said Ruth Osuna, a Brownsville’s assistant city manager. “Everybody is trying to separate us. But we keep coming together.”
Ibarra is currently waiting for construction to begin on the Mexico side. Despite all of the progress the two sides have made, security issues are another hurdle. CitiScope reports that this bridge would require that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security set up an X-ray machine that’s able to handle bike traffic. As it stands, a U.S. travel advisory for American citizens traveling to Matamoros remains. And U.S. government officials who live in the Mexican city have a midnight curfew. That means places like Garcia’s – a popular restaurant in Matamoros – are seeing their businesses affected. But the binational park is a way to bring the two cities together once again.