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BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Dignitaries on Friday celebrated a freight train crossing the first new international rail bridge between the U.S. and Mexico in over 100 years and the first new cargo dock at the Port of Brownsville for 16 years.

“It is fitting that these two projects were inaugurated today. They are going to be a great economic boost for Brownsville and South Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, who attended a ribbon-cutting at the Port and witnessed operational use of the new West Rail line.

The rail project cost more than $120 million on the U.S. side and about $75 million of infrastructure investment on the Mexican side. Among the commodities likely to be shipped across the bridge are motor vehicle parts, commercial vehicles, fuels and landline and cellular phone equipment.

A new six-mile rail line on the U.S. side connects to the new international rail bridge. It is huge for Brownsville residents because it replaces the existing rail connection that runs through downtown Brownsville to Matamoros, Mexico. By not going through the city, 14 at-grade rail crossings in Brownsville are eliminated, including some located near school zones. Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said shifting rail traffic out of congested areas will help speed the flow of cargo moving between the two countries.

“I think this is, what do you say, a symptom of progress? I am real thrilled. It is a great day for the city of Brownsville,” Martinez said. “About a year ago we had a groundbreaking for SpaceX, in August of last year. Elon Musk was in town. As he was looking out from the launching pad site I asked him, what do you see? He said, ‘I see the future.’ So, I think what you are seeing right now is the future coming to pass.”

Musk is the founder of SpaceX. The company plans to launch rockets from Boca Chica beach near Brownsville.

Cameron County, the City of Brownsville and the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (CCRMA) have been working on the rail relocation project for the past 15 years. David E. Allex, an expert in logistics and economic development, has been CCRMA chairman for the last ten years. Allex said the rail project will improve safety, travel time and the free flow of legal trade between the U.S. and Mexico, thus benefitting Texas jobs and economic opportunity.

“This project puts the Rio Grande Valley on the map. To have this new transportation artery that will help serve our region on both sides of the border is paramount to the success of the region. I know that we will be able to attract more investment to the region because of this project,” Allex said.

Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda, Jr., pointed out that the rail project prioritizes border security and includes X-Ray scanning machines, known as Vehicle and Cargo Inspection Systems, to scan rail cars for illicit cash, drugs and other contraband.

“This is a project that will leave a lasting effect on our community for many years to come. Providing this new link to move goods and services more efficiently is going to bring enormous advantages and opportunities to the consumer, the supplier and to markets throughout North America and the world,” Sepulveda said.

The new dock at the Port of Brownsville is at R.L. Ostos Road and is referred to as Dock 16. It was designed as a 600 ft. long heavy load dock that can accommodate deep draft (up to 39.5 feet) cargo vessels. HDR Inc. was the engineering company of record, and the contractor for the project was Shoreline Foundation Inc. The dock was partially funded by a $12 million U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER Grant. The Port of Brownsville contributed the remainder of the funds for a total cost of $26.2 million. Port Director and CEO Eduardo Campirano said the funds were used to construct the general cargo dock, road improvements and lighting.

Campirano said the new dock it will enhance the Port’s expansion in its cargo handling efforts and has the versatility to keep pace with the growing demand for handling multiple commodities. He said it will also serve as the Port’s second heavy-load capacity dock and increase efficiencies by eliminating or minimizing potential vessel delays.

“Last year, the Port of Brownsville set a new record of cargo movement—7.6 million metric tons,” Eduardo A. Campirano said. “Dock 16 will allow us to increase our cargo handling capabilities and help ensure the Port continues its reputation of reliability in handling and moving cargo in a safe and timely manner. As an important economic driver for this region, our stakeholders, and especially our community, depend on us.”

Campirano pointed out that in 2014, the Port of Brownsville moved 7.6 million metric tons of steel, aluminum, lumber, minerals, grains, gasoline, diesel and windmill components internationally. Port activity adds $926.7 million to the regional economy, and more than $2 billion to the state’s economy, he said. More than $134 million in state and local sales tax also is generated through Port business. The Port is also responsible for the creation of 11,230 direct and indirect jobs on the regional level, and 21,590 jobs statewide.

U.S. Maritime Administrator Paul N. Jaenichen was present for the ribbon-cutting. Congressman Vela said he was fortunate to be at the Port for a ground-breaking ceremony with the previous maritime administrator. “Today we can see what a great dock it is. It is not going to look like it does today for too long because ships are going to come in and I am sure the face of the project is going to change but it is going to be a huge economic engine for the Port of Brownsville,” Vela said.

Vela pointed out that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recommended a deepening of the ship channel at the Port of Brownsville to 52 feet. He said the next step is to secure approval from the Office of Management and Budget. “We have got a lot more work to do with respect to the deepening of the port and a lot of other infrastructure projects we are working on, such as the expansion of I-69,” Vela said.

Asked about all the infrastructure projects he is working on for South Texas, Vela said: “We set certain goals when I first took office and I have been fortunate to have good partners all around me from the local units of government, the county, the cities, the port, and good partners within the federal agencies and with the State of Texas. These projects do not come to fruition without the collaboration of a lot of people. Everyone deserves credit for making projects like the West Rail and Dock 16 become a reality.”

Mayor Martinez said a top priority now is finding the funds to deepen the ship channel at the Port of Brownsville.

“The next step, without a doubt, is to deepen the channel. Once you do that I think you are set for a long time into the future. You will see business grow exponentially,” Martinez said. “If you are keeping up with ports around the country, the smaller ports that do not have a deep water channel are slowly shrinking. If you have a deep water port and with the expansion plans the board has, then I think you are in for a great treat.”

Asked where the money will come from to deepen the channel, Martinez said: “That is where you will see how innovative and creative this port board is. I am sure that they are. To be honest with you, because of the budget cuts that are happening at the federal level I think you are going to have to start looking at – and I think Eddie Campirano talked about it in an interview not too long ago – working with the private sector.”