LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — A group of South Texas lawmakers want the White House to expedite permitting for three new international bridges linking to Mexico, and for expansion of the No. 1 inland port for commercial trucks on the border city of Laredo.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño held a press conference at the World Trade Bridge, in Laredo, where thousands of commercial trucks pass daily. They were urging President Joe Biden to fast-track construction on these international corridors, which they say is essential for increased international trade and global commerce.

“South Texas is an incredible place of vibrant opportunity and jobs in South Texas and is driven by the powerful trade and commerce by our border bridges,” Cruz said.

Lawmakers want presidential permits for expansion of the World Trade Bridge in Laredo. They also want to build three others in Texas:

  • The 4/5 Bridge in Rio Bravo, southeast of Laredo.
  • The Flor de Mayo International Bridge in Brownsville.
  • The Puerto Verde Global Trade Bridge in Eagle Pass.

The bipartisan delegation touted that expanding and building new international bridges is not a partisan issue, but of global importance to both country’s economies.

Last month Cruz and Cuellar, along with other Texas lawmakers — Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Democrat U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez and Republican U.S. Reps. Monica De La Cruz and Tony Gonzales — sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to bypass environmental regulations that require a full environmental assessment before his agency issues a recommendation to the White House on whether or not to issue presidential permits.

Earlier this month, Cuellar met with Blinken to discuss reforms to the permitting process.

Cuellar, ranking member on the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee, has also proposed legislation that would reform the permitting process for all international bridges on the northern and southern border, as part of the FY 2024 State Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Bill. The measure passed the full House Appropriations Committee on July 12 and is awaiting action by the full House, his office told Border Report.

With U.S. trade with Mexico accounting for $863 billion in goods and services, annually, Cuellar said more bridges must be added and more lanes to more quickly connect the countries.

A truck approaching southbound on July 24 at the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)
A truck approaching southbound on July 24 at the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“All of us are working on bipartisan ways to get this done. And it’s going to get done,” Cuellar said.

Cruz earlier this month helped to pass a measure in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that also would hasten the processing of permits at the World Trade Bridge and build the three new bridges connecting to South Texas. He said the measures now await full Senate approval.

If passed, the environmental processes must still be completed and meet federal regulations, but the pending legislation would allow construction to begin and move forward in the meantime. And that, lawmakers say, will save time and money.

The State Department is the agency that recommends to the White House whether a new international bridge is warranted and in the best foreign-policy interests of the United States.

But Cruz said new regulations put in by the Biden administration require all environmental assessments to be completed before any construction can begin. 

“All of us standing here have united to pressure the Biden administration to stop delaying these bridges,” Cruz said.

Expanding World Trade Bridge

Cuellar, whose hometown is Laredo, has been working for months with the White House’s National Security Council and Council on Environmental Quality to expedite approval for expansion of the World Trade Bridge to 16 lanes — 10 heading north and six south.

Efforts for the $40 million expansion project have been ongoing since 2021. This is the commercial-only international bridge connecting Laredo to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which is located in the border state of Tamaulipas.

Over 1.7 million commercial vehicles have crossed the World Trade Bridge so far this fiscal year — an increase of 6.3% of Fiscal Year 2023, he said.

“Laredo is the nation’s No. 1 inland port of entry, and our infrastructure is critical to achieving that. The proposed World Trade Bridge expansion project will add an additional eight lanes to the World Trade Bridge, bringing the total to 16 lanes and enabling more trade with our southern neighbor,” Cuellar said.

Laredo City Councilmember Melissa Cigarroa, an outspoken environmentalist, recently told Border Report that because the World Trade Bridge already exists and environmental assessments were already prepared and passed for construction of this bridge, she doesn’t view it as a waiver of environmental assessments.

Laredo City Councilwoman Melissa Cigarroa. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)
Laredo City Councilwoman Melissa Cigarroa. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“It is more of a an acceptance of the fact that the new bridge there will be alongside the old bridge so the environmental studies have been done for that area. So to pretend like it is an entirely new project adds millions of dollars of cost and delays the project by months, if not years,” Cigarroa said.

She said last year the World Trade Bridge saw a 20% increase in trade and forecasts are for 4% to 5% increases annually.

“And at that rate, we will just run out of capacity to handle the trade,” she said. “So in order to make sure we don’t have a chokehold in the system, we need to get that process moving quickly.”

New Brownsville bridge

This is the requested location for the Flor de Mayo International Bridge to be built connecting Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, Mexico. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

If built, the Flor de Mayo International Bridge would be the fourth bridge to connect to Matamoros, Mexico, and is slated to be built outside an affluent suburban subdivision on the northeast side of this border city.

Design plans are still being developed but Treviño says that, if approved, they are looking at building a four-lane bridge costing about $20 million.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino wants the new Flor de Mayo International Bridge approved for construction in Brownsville, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)
Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino wants the new Flor de Mayo International Bridge approved for construction in Brownsville, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“Every port of entry that we’re able to initiate, expand, renovate and invest in is something that helps our border trade. The Flor de Mayo is a new bridge that we’ve been working on for many, many years. It’s a vehicle traffic and pedestrian design only. The point of it is it will enhance our cross-border trade on the west side of Brownsville and on the northern side of Matamoros and also on US 281,” he told Border Report after the press conference. “It would allow us to keep moving forward at the same time that we’re working on the environmental process, the NEPA process, without delaying any of the other processes and all that ends up doing is costing us more time and more money.”