RIO HONDO — About 6,000 cars, trucks and trailers cross daily through the Arroyo Colorado Lift Bridge, and one man worked tirelessly to make sure its historical significance was not lost.
The yellow mechanical bridge, which is 382-feet long and 25-feet wide, is the only lift bridge built between 1945 and 1960 in Texas that is still in operation.
And because of its history and the role it plays in transportation and trade in Rio Hondo and Harlingen, Pete Castillo, 69, worked diligently to obtain a historical marker for it in 2012.
“This bridge, people had never realized, it was very important. One day I said ‘Hey, I’m going to do something about it,’” Castillo said. “I had been seeing about people getting historical markers and this bridge was the only crossing between Rio Hondo, San Benito and Port Isabel when Hurricane Wilma hit.”
According to Castillo, the water from the hurricane was so high at the Arroyo it blocked out all the highways, making the bridge the only available crossing.
New York Engineering firm Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Hall and Macdonald designed it, and it was built in May 1953. It operated with two electric pulley motors on each side of the span, with a lift and descent of 10 to 15 minutes.
“They shut it two years to repair it, and then people started to realize how important it was,” Castillo said.
And although the process of getting a historical marker was lengthy, Castillo said he considered it important because it’s the only bridge of its type left.
“We started the process in 2009, and it took two or three years trying to get it going. It takes a lot of paperwork and you have to go through the city council,” he said. “Then, you go through the Cameron County Commissioners and then the state office.”
Not only is Castillo passionate about the bridge, but also about local history as a whole, he said.
He has been living in Rio Hondo for 69 years and took the initiative to create and manage the City Museum inside City Hall.
“I love history. And I was born here, and I have seen this town go from industrial things to what it is now. I am so passionate to keep this going,” he said.
Castillo was unable to attend any public ceremony or announcement to commemorate the designation in 2012 and missed out on festivities again last year.
He was supposed to be part of a public recognition at the 2019 Bridgefest celebrations, but was hospitalized at the time.
“I am proud the city has now acknowledged there is a lot of history in Rio Hondo and the surrounding areas,” he said. “I like when people see pictures and remember their grandparents and have flashbacks. It makes me say ‘Wow I did something good for the city.”