Several Texas-Mexico border infrastructure developments recently received a boost after a new law took effect that speeds up the federal approval process for international cargo bridge projects.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, led the policy change effort to reform the presidential permitting process for new and expanded border bridges, with the focus on international crossings in Laredo, Eagle Pass and Brownsville, Texas.

The bill, which sets a maximum 120-day timeline for the president to decide whether to approve a permit for international border crossings, was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Dec. 22. The previous process used by the Biden administration required an environmental review, which could have taken several years, according to Cuellar.

“We now have changed the law that will move the bridge permitting faster, that means we can move the construction of the bridges at [Laredo’s] World Trade Bridge, construction of the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity International Bridge much, much faster,” Cuellar said at a news conference Thursday in Laredo. “Last year, we had more than $863 billion worth of trade between the U.S. and Mexico, 40% of that trade came through this port in Laredo.”

A project to expand the World Trade Bridge from eight to 18 lanes and the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge from eight to 16 lanes has been in the works for years. 

Laredo currently has three bridges, including two commercial cargo bridges — the World Trade Bridge and the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge. The World Trade Bridge connects to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The Colombia-Solidarity Bridge is further north and connects Laredo to the community of Colombia in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. 

Port Laredo — which includes the World Trade and Colombia-Solidarity bridges, as well as an international rail bridge and Laredo International Airport — is currently the No. 1-ranked U.S. international trade gateway. In October, two-way trade in Laredo totaled $28.7 billion.

The bridge expansion projects are aimed at decreasing growing wait times for cargo trucks crossing the bridges, Cuellar said.

“Bridges serve as economic lifelines for our border communities, facilitating international trade and commerce,” Cuellar said. “However, drivers and truckers often report lines stretching for thousands to cross, delaying the transportation of goods and costing our economy millions.”

Another commercial development that could be expedited includes the Puerto Verde Global Trade Bridge project, which would construct a cross-border rail and truck freight bridge between Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Mexico. 

A fourth project in Brownsville aims to expand an international passenger vehicle bridge.

Under the new law, the State Department has 60 days to recommend to the president whether to approve a permit for an international bridge project in South Texas. The president then has 60 days to approve the permit request. If the president does not act, the permit is automatically granted.

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