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What spurred construction of Laredo’s World Trade Bridge?

Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo attended ceremony

The eight-lane, $128 million World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas, opened for business on April 15, 2000. The international bridge is the No. 1 land border crossing for commercial traffic in the United States. (Photo: FreightWaves staff)

On April 24, 2000, the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas, held a dedication ceremony to great public fanfare.

Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush attended the grand opening, along with President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico.

The eight-lane, $128 million World Trade Bridge crosses over the Rio Grande River and connects Laredo to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. It was constructed to handle the rapid growth of commercial truck traffic between Mexico and the United States.

“Today we are celebrating not just a bridge of concrete and steel, but a lasting alliance of common hopes and friendship,” Bush said, according to UPI. “To all who are willing, we will extend the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] — free trade and open markets throughout the Americas, from northernmost Alaska to the tip of Cape Horn.”

Mayor Betty Flores of Laredo had hosted a local opening ceremony for the bridge a week earlier when it opened for business.

Since NAFTA was signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 1994, imports from Mexico to the United States grew faster than from any other nation, according to a study by the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

“In less than a decade, commerce between the two nations has tripled. With its strategic position on the border, and its interstate highway connection to the interior of the U.S., Laredo sits at the epicenter of this economic boom,” the Center for Urban Transportation Research study said in 2002.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) went into effect on July 1, 2020, replacing 26 years of NAFTA.

Prior to the World Trade Bridge, the main commercial crossing was one lane on the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, or Bridge 2, in the heart of downtown Laredo.

Lines of commercial vehicles would stretch several miles from Interstate 35 South into downtown Laredo’s commercial areas, creating a dangerous mix of commercial and passenger vehicles, along with pedestrians.

The city of Laredo submitted a presidential permit application for the World Trade Bridge in 1991, which was issued in 1994.

Construction started on Sept. 30, 1998. It was a joint effort by the cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, according to the Laredo Morning Times.

More than 2,000 workers, of whom 50% were from outside the region, worked on the bridge’s construction. Many were housed in temporary homes built for the workers until the job was completed.

Today, the World Trade Bridge — part of the Laredo port of entry — is the No. 1 land border crossing in the U.S., with 4,000 to 6,000 commercial trucks crossing daily.

During 2020, the Laredo port of entry accounted for $206 billion in two-way trade, led by passenger vehicles, commercial trucks, motor vehicle parts, car engines, gasoline and petroleum, computer products, and electronic machinery.

The Laredo port of entry was the No. 1-ranked port briefly during periods in 2019 and 2020, and currently ranks third nationally, trailing only the Port of Los Angeles and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

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One Comment

  1. Betty Flores

    The ceremony held earlier was on the US side to open the bridge as promised on April 15. The Mexican President could not come on that date but promised a ceremony on the Mexican side at a later date. I allowed Gov Bush to cross the commercial only bridge although he did not ride in a commercial vehicle after the then Secretary of State requested it. Calls from the presidential campaign office were denied entry. Both the Mexican mayor and I were allowed to speak after I made a call to President Zedillo. It was through our efforts that the bridge was built. There was no Mx or US Federal money used. I acquired the first Texas Infrastructure loan from then Republican Commissioner. The rest of the money was NY Bond money. We paid the Texas loan first. Get your facts right. The permit was in Laredo; delivered by Gov Ann Richards when she was named Mr South Texas) four years earlier. It wasn’t signed by Pres Bill Clinton. Ann literally sat by the doorstep of the 52 agencies that have to approve tge permit. I was able to get the diplomatic notes for construction authorization in March after my Feb 14, 1998 election. This required financial and construction plans signed off by the Stste Dept of both countries. All signatures were from women directors. The only promise I made to the people of Laredo was to move the traffic off the two pedestrians vehicle bridges downtown. Two young people were killed as a result of backed up truck traffic. There is much more “rest of the story” but for now know this…Pres Bush invited me to the Cinco the Mayo celebration in DC and my grandson to the Easter Egg hunt at the White House. He came to visit Laredo as promised, the day before I left office. He and Laura are good friends. I spent the night at the White House with other 4 other Mayors before President Clinton’s last State of the Union address.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]