Leaders from the state of Texas, the City of Laredo and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas gathered Saturday at the Gateway to the Americas Bridge to discuss the construction and expansion plans on the World Trade Bridge.
Shortly after the meeting, they were quick to provide the media with important news.
“The money’s there, the commitment’s there and we want to move. At least on the U.S. side, put it on a fast track so we can move the expansion of the World Trade Bridge as fast as possible,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28) said.
Cuellar met this weekend with Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, Governor of Tamaulipas, Mexico Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca and Interim Nuevo Laredo Mayor Arturo San Miguel on Saturday. And there was a lot of optimism going around at the press conference following their gathering.
“We had a thorough discussion of the border, more so the bridge plans that we have for the City of Laredo and, of course, Nuevo (Laredo) as well,” Saenz said.
Expansion and construction on the World Trade Bridge and the Nuevo Laredo International Bridge 4/5 have been key points of discussion over the last year in Laredo. During a city council meeting in February, City Manager Robert Eads presented a study which detailed potential capacity limits coming in the next decade.
According to the study, if there is no expansion on the World Trade Bridge, it could reach capacity by 2030 which would negatively impact commercial truck wait times and trade flows.
“The good thing is we’re doing things today, major projects that we know will extend that capacity, but we’re still going to end up at the same point; we will still always be building out,” Eads told FreightWaves in a story released in March. “Our true opportunity is going to be expansion of the World Trade Bridge and the greater use of the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge.”
The city has discussed several things to mitigate flow at the World Trade Bridge including the possible expansion from four to eight lanes on each side as well as the introduction of Fast Lanes to expedite truck flow.
However, it appears there may be more than just one thing included in the expansion which could be coming up sooner rather than later.
“We want to put an option where we put all of it together,” Cuellar said. “We expand (and) put Fast Lanes so we can get the best benefit of the work that we want to do here.”
Cuellar’s focus though was the speed in which he wanted the project to get started. And he pointed to the example set by the agreement last year for an elevated train bridge.
“We want to put it on a fast track,” he said. “Basically, if you remember, and this is something we talked about is the Kansas City Southern (situation). As you know, they got a permit very fast, and they’re going to building a rail train — one for north and one for south. We want to do the same thing for the World Trade Bridge.”
There is more work to do for the city and Cuellar, but the congressman sounded encouraged by what his colleagues in Mexico told him during Saturday’s meeting.
“My understanding, they have the money already to do their side and the money on the U.S. side will be there to get it done. The money is there,” he said. “Second of all, my understanding is on the Mexican side … since the state has the concession then, they will notify the federal government they have the money, and they will do their part on their half of the bridge.”
The World Trade Bridge originally opened for use on April 15, 2000. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, the World Trade Crossing “is the most important truck crossing on the United States/Mexican border. Texas border crossings account for most of the truck traffic, and the Laredo crossing alone represents over 60% of the truck traffic crossing the border between Texas and Mexico.”
However, since its opening in the year 2000, congestion has started to become a problem, and it only appears to be getting worse. According to the city’s February report, commercial traffic will increase by 3.3% from 2019 to 2030, and without improvements, wait times at the bridge could increase by 105% by that time.
As Cuellar said, the Mexican side appears to already have the money necessary to get the job done, now it’s his job and the job of his U.S. constituents to make sure it gets done.
“On our U.S. side, it’s a little more complicated,” he said. “We have to go to the state department, and I know the city has already reached out to them and I have also reached out to them, and we’re going to set up a follow up so we can do work up here.
“As you know, there is a more expedited process to move our side of the presidential permit because it’s not a new bridge. Really it’s modification to a presidential permit already, so we think that will move fast. We were talking about how fast we can move this so we can put this on a fast track.
“The money is there. The will is there. And we have set up a task force between the Mexican side and the American side — basically of the city — so we can get moving and start moving what we need so we can do this as soon as possible.”
There is also hope to improve the 4/5 bridge as well. That was also discussed in Saturday’s meeting.
“We discussed thoroughly what we need to do, what plans we have here in Laredo,” Saenz said. “We basically showed the governor and the Mayor of Nuevo Laredo our plans for the expansion of the World Trade Bridge, and also we discussed the location of the 4/5 bridge, but more so we focused on the expansion of the 4/5 bridge.”
“We also talked about 4/5,” Cuellar added. “We do. As I say always, ‘Queremos puentes, no queremos muros. We certainly want bridges, we don’t want walls.’ And we certainly want to make sure that we work on that. But the first thing is this.”
Coming out of Saturday’s meeting and press conference, there was a sense of optimism among those who spoke, and Cuellar was at the forefront of that.
“We’re looking at this fast track, but we know some of this will take a little bit of time,” he said. “So from my perspective, I’m very, very excited that we’re finally saying that both sides have the money to get started, both sides are on the same page to get it started, and at least on the U.S. side, the permit is at least a little more expedited and we have set up a task force to make sure that we do this.
“I talked to the federal government already to make sure that we have everybody together, so I feel very, very good. There will still be a lot of more work to do, but I think today was a very important day.”