Borderlands: Laredo looks to add, expand bridges to boost Mexico trade

Borderlands is a weekly rundown of developments in the world of United States-Mexico cross-border trucking and trade. This week: Laredo’s bridge master plan aims to boost Mexico trade; German automaker invests $72 million in San Luis Potosí; Transmontes orders 75 Freightliner trucks; El Paso opens route for trucks headed to Mexico.

Laredo’s bridge master plan aims 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.

Outbound tender volumes have climbed year-over-year in Laredo, Texas, since 2017. (Chart: OTVI.LRD FreightWaves SONAR)

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 Headhaul Index in Laredo has fallen slightly since last week, pointing to a possible easing in capacity. (Chart: HAUL.LRD FreightWaves SONAR)

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.”

German automaker invests $72M in San Luis Potosí

German auto manufacturer Continental recently announced it will invest $72 million in one of its four plants in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

Continental will expand the factory by more than 215,000 square feet and create 350 jobs. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2022.

The plant will produce hydraulic brakes for the automotive industry.

Hanover, Germany-based Continental is a parts manufacturing company specializing in brake systems, interior electronics, tires and other products.

Continental employs about 25,000 people in 13 states across Mexico. Its four manufacturing plants in San Luis Potosí employ over 3,000.

Transmontes orders 75 Freightliner trucks

Mexican carrier Transmontes recently received 29 Freightliner trucks as part of an order of 75 units.

The company, based in the Mexican city of Lerdo in Durango state, is owned by Noe Montes, owner of U.S.-based carrier TM Transportation Services in Laredo.

Mexican carrier orders 75 Freightliner trucks. (Photo: Transmontes)

Transmontes and TM Transportation offers cargo import and export services between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, in industries such as automotive, textile, food and beverages, aerospace, and energy.

El Paso opens route for trucks headed to Mexico

The city of El Paso, Texas, opened a new route for commercial trucks heading into Mexico on March 1.

The new Winn Road extension at the Ysleta Port of Entry along the U.S.-Mexico border aims to provide a different route for trucks and relieve congestion on Loop 375 in El Paso.

“The Winn Road extension and improvements to Pan American Drive accomplished what the project set out to do — increase queueing capacity for commercial freight trucks to alleviate congestion on the state highway,” David Coronado, El Paso’s international bridges director, said, according to news outlet KFOXTV.

The Ysleta Port of Entry, also known as Zaragoza International Bridge, had over 1.1 million commercial vehicles crossing through the port in 2020.

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