McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The mayors of Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, are in Washington, D.C., meeting with officials over plans to create a binational river park and expand the commercial truck bridge that connects the two sister border cities.
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz and Nuevo Laredo Mayor Carmen Lilia Canturosas Villarreal have a full day of talks Wednesday that includes meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar, and Mexican Ambassador to the United States Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, as well as several members of Congress, Border Report has learned.
Driving their agenda is their request for a presidential permit to expand the World Trade Bridge, which is the No. 1 land port for commercial trucks on the Southwest border.
On Monday, the Laredo City Council voted to ratify a memorandum of understanding between the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and the city of Laredo “for the planning and construction of the World Trade Bridge Expansion Project to accommodate increasing traffic volumes, improve vehicular safety, and reduce wait times,” according to the council’s agenda.
The bridge expansion request comes as officials in South Texas are pushing through a new interstate highway trade corridor that would originate in Laredo and help goods and products more easily reach destinations throughout the country.
Saenz told media he and Canturosas would meet with U.S. State Department officials over the bridge expansion and discuss permits, funding and federal support.
They also are to meet with Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Republicans from Texas, over a new binational river park project, according to the Laredo Morning Times.
The river project has taken off this past year and gotten much buy-in from leaders south of the border, Tricia Cortez, executive director of the nonprofit Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC) told Border Report.
There is no firm master plan, yet, she said. However, ideas include a 6-mile ecological restoration section of the river on both sides with trails, wildlife sanctuaries, exhibits and other amenities.
This also could include building amphitheaters on both shores so a concert can be heard from both countries, Cortez said.
And they are considering a monarch butterfly sanctuary to be built on both borders to help preserve the beloved species that regularly migrate back and forth over the river en route to their homeland in Mexico.
“There had always been these dreams in the past to get some kind of binational river park and it seemed so way out there, not possible. But this is really actively supported by the two ambassadors at the highest level of government that is helping to open doors for us,” Cortez said.
“At the heart of it is the ecological restoration of the river and the creeks that feed into it — there are four major creeks that feed the Rio Grande, two in Nuevo Laredo and two in Laredo — and how do we center this work in order to improve security and safety and drive ecological restoration in a way that is sustainable,” she said.
The plans expand upon ecological restoration projects that had already been in the works for Zacate Creek and Las Palmas Park on the South Laredo side of the river.
But this binational river Park takes it to a whole new level, Cortez said.
The Laredo City Council a year ago designated the Zacate Creek area as the city’s first natural landmark to help entice more birding and ecotourism, especially for those wanting to see “Laredo’s signature bird – the Morelet’s Seedeater,” according to the resolution city officials signed.
Staffers from RGISC, a nonprofit based in Laredo that studies and safeguards the Rio Grande watershed, accompanied the delegations, Cortez said. They have been part of a binational working group that has been meeting about this since January.
Talks really kicked off after Salazar visited Laredo in December and again in February, she said.