Toll Taker Frank Dupuy Fights for His Troubled Bridge Over Texas Water
It's not exactly the Brooklyn Bridge, but Frank Dupuy's two-lane, 640-foot span across the Rio Grande from Presidio, Texas to Ojinaga, Mexico really is for sale. Dupuy, 65, says that he grosses $150,000 a year from the thoroughfare. A potential buyer, though, could snap up Frank's two-thirds interest in the bridge (the rest belongs to Mexico) for a paltry $250,000. Dupuy will even throw in his six-room house and 35 acres to sweeten the deal, which makes it sound like the biggest bargain since the island on the west end of the Brooklyn Bridge traded for $24. But there are no takers. The reason is that Presidio County threatens to build a $1.5 million bridge 1,000 yards upstream, leaving the Dupuy family patrimony high and driverless.
The bridge has been a way of life for the Dupuys since 1926 when Frank's father, H.E., built a one-lane span for $60,000 and charged an 8¢ toll (the current rate is 60¢). In 1932 a flood severely damaged the structure, but H.E. soon replaced it. Though the Depression crimped business, local lore insists that the family has accrued millions from the tolls. Frank denies that, but there isn't another bridge on the 500-mile stretch of river between El Paso and Laredo, so the 5,000 people living in Presidio County have no alternative route. For 30 years politicians have called for a public span, and in 1958 one outspoken advocate was threatened physically by H.E., an irascible former oil-field roughneck. "I'll shut that little s.o.b. up," Dupuy announced, heading for a showdown. The terrified politician shot H.E. from 200 feet as he drove down a Presidio highway. Dupuy died from the rifle bullet, and the killer was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. Frank inherited the bridge.
He has run it ever since and means to fight—in court—to keep it going. The law and bureaucracy are on his side for the moment. Environmental impact studies are required, and it will be at least two years before construction could start. But Frank is already considering his retirement. He talks of moving to the West Texas hill country. "It's pretty and green there," says Dupuy, "and I could play dominoes with the old folks in the courthouse square."
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