McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The South Texas city of Laredo and the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas are joined in an effort to double the lanes at the city’s international commercial truck bridge, and they also want to build a new international bridge to promote further trade and commerce on the border.
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told Border Report that the $40 million expansion project would increase the World Trade Bridge to 16 lanes — 10 heading north and six south — at the commercial-only international bridge connecting Laredo to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
The World Trade Bridge is one of the most traveled for commercial imports and exports between the United States and Mexico, and in years past has exceeded the Port of Los Angeles for trucks and trade revenue. Between 16,000 and 18,000 commercial vehicles cross the World Trade Bridge daily, Saenz said. The value of trade crossing the bridge is $230 million annually and a major contributor to the regional and national economies for both countries, he said.
The World Trade bridge expansion project would cost Laredo about $25 million, and cost Mexico an estimated $15 million, Saenz said.
During a visit last weekend, Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca announced that Mexican officials have the money in hand and are ready to begin construction. However, U.S. authorities from the State Department must still approve all plans and that could take at least six months.
“The governor mentioned it will cost about $15 million when he was here, on the Mexican side, and he’s got the money. So he says that everything is aligned from his end. All he has to do is give notice to the Mexican federal government that this project is going to take place,” Saenz told Border Report this week.
But it’s not going to be as quick on the U.S. side, where the State Department must fully approve the project. And it’s uncertain whether a U.S. presidential permit would be needed — as usually is the case for international bridge projects — because they are calling this an “expansion” of the existing bridge.
Current plans call for building a completely new bridge heading north and using the current bridge for all southbound traffic. In addition, there would be two fast lanes heading north into the United States, Saenz said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose hometown is Laredo, said he recently met with State Department officials over the bridge expansion project. Officials from Tamaulipas also met with the State Department last month to discuss it, and last Saturday the top leaders touted the project with confidence during a news conference held in Laredo.
“We’ve seen the Mexican side do a lot of work already. We’re looking at building one bridge that will go north and then the existing bridge where the traffic will come south,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar is optimistic and calls the expansion project “low-hanging fruit” that he believes could be accomplished fairly quickly.
“The money is there. The commitment is there and we want to move, at least on the U.S. side to put it on a fast track,” Cuellar said.
“For the future, it is necessary to move massive amounts of commerce between Mexico and the United States and Canada,” Cabeza de Vaca said in Spanish.
Plans for new international bridge: ‘The 4-5’
Officials are also considering building an entirely new international bridge that would require full U.S. government approval, something that could take much more time and require a presidential permit, Saenz said.
The new bridge would cost the City of Laredo an estimated $15 million to build, and the City Council last month approved appropriating the funds and the location — about 15 miles southeast of the city in rural Webb County. It would connect the towns of El Cenizo, Texas, with Rio Bravo, Mexico, and would be near Zapata County, which has no international port with Mexico.
Though it’s only been proposed, the would-be bridge is referred to as the “4-5 Bridge” because there are four international bridges leading to Tamaulipas from Laredo, and five international bridges from Mexico into Laredo, Saenz said.
The port costs also do not include what the federal government would need to spend to build U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities to screen cars and pedestrians and cargo vehicles.