Borderlands: Laredo looks to add, expand bridges to boost Mexico trade
The World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas, could reach capacity by 2030, negatively impacting commercial truck wait times and trade flows, according to a new study.
The findings are part of the city of Laredo’s bridge master plan, discussed during a Feb. 22 council council meeting. The goal of the plan is to increase trade between Mexico and the United States at all of Laredo’s international bridges.
“The report has started signaling that the bridge should be pretty close to capacity by 2030, if nothing is done,” Robert Eads, Laredo’s city manager, told FreightWaves. “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. Our true opportunity is going to be expansion of the World Trade Bridge and the greater use of the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge.”
Some of the projects already underway include the World Trade Bridge FAST Lane Initiative and addition of weigh-in-motion (WIM) technology in existing commercial lanes, Eads said.
The Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program is a commercial clearance program for known low-risk shipments entering the United States from Mexico and Canada.
Laredo’s FAST project consists of relocating FAST lanes to a new site on the northside of Port Laredo, allowing FAST trucks a more direct route from the international bridge.
SNB Infrastructure is conducting the bridge master plan and is still collecting data and reaching out to stakeholders, which include the city of Laredo, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. and Mexican customs brokers, and the Texas Department of Transportation.
Some of the findings from the study include:
Commercial vehicle traffic will increase 3.3% from 2019 to 2030.
Eight percent of the commercial vehicles that cross the border in Laredo originate from Monterrey, Mexico.
Without improvements, wait times at the World Trade Bridge could increase 105% by 2030.
The Colombia-Solidarity Bridge in Laredo continues to be underutilized due to transfer costs and Mexican customs broker licensing issues.
Other stakeholders in the port’s expansion include officials in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and the government in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
Nelson Balido, representing the Texas-Tamaulipas Trade Office, said a lot of people in the trade community think the World Trade Bridge is already at capacity.
“Certainly depending on who you talk to, people who may say today already the bridge is at capacity, there’s certainly a lot of congestion,” Balido said during the Feb. 22 council meeting.
Port Laredo includes four international trade bridges and Laredo International Airport. The port’s World Trade Bridge and Colombia Solidarity Bridge are two of the busiest commercial crossings in the U.S.
As many as 8,000 commercial trucks a day cross both of Laredo’s two bridges, carrying everything from cars, auto parts and produce to electronics and medical equipment.
In 2020, 2.3 million trucks and 239,017 rail containers crossed the border at the Laredo port of entry. It finished fourth overall among the nation’s 450 international gateways for trade, behind the Port of Los Angeles, Chicago O’Hare International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Mexico was Port Laredo’s top international trading partner during 2020, accounting for $201 billion in total trade.
Laredo outbound domestic volume is up over year-ago levels as freight from Mexico continues to surge from high levels of demand from the retail, health care, consumer electronics and automotive sectors.
Laredo is known as a “headhaul market” to U.S. truckers, meaning there are far more outbound loads than inbound loads. As a result, carriers often have to deadhead to pick up loads in Laredo.
The bridge master plan study will be completed in June, when SNB Infrastructure presents its final recommendations to the city.
Eads said some of the key projects at Port Laredo will be widening of the World Trade Bridge from eight to 16 lanes and ultimately the addition of a fifth international commercial bridge, the so-called 4/5 bridge.
Laredo currently has three bridges — including the World Trade Bridge — connecting it to Nuevo Laredo. The Colombia-Solidarity Bridge is further north and connects Laredo to the community of Colombia, in Nuevo León, Mexico. A fifth bridge would be the fourth for Nuevo Laredo, hence the moniker 4/5 bridge.
“The fourth category of improvements that are being looked at are on-site improvements at the ports of entry; that’s the widening of the World Trade Bridge itself,” Eads said. “Finally, the question that is in everybody’s mind, which is when would the construction of a 4/5 bridge be necessary, and basically that would be determined by the analysis of all the other improvements and the optimizations of the bridge system.”