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From left to right at the World Trade Bridge in Laredo: Robert Eads, Assistant Laredo City Manager; Jesus Olivares, Laredo City Manager; Cynthia Collazo, Deputy Laredo City Manager; Laredo Council Member George Altgelt; Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz; Congressman Henry Cuellar; Francisco Galvan, secretary for international trade for the State of Tamaulipas; Brad Skinner, Customs and Border Protection Field Operations; and Alberto Flores, Customs and Border Protection Deputy Port Director.

BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Four international ports of entry on the South Texas border have been given the green light to proceed with infrastructure projects that will be donated to the federal government.

The four ports are Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge in Donna, Veterans International Bridge in Brownsville, and the World Trade Bridge in Laredo.

Under the Donations Acceptance Program, Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration can explore, foster and facilitate partnerships for port of entry infrastructure and technology improvements.

Kevin K. McAleenan

“The Donations Acceptance Program continues to prove an effective tool that border stakeholders may use to expedite port of entry improvements,” said Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan in a news release issued Wednesday.

“The four selectees announced today submitted innovative and forward thinking infrastructure proposals that will support and improve the facilitation of future trade and travel demands. We appreciate their willingness to invest in improved border infrastructure and look forward to working with them and with future program partners to provide new and expanded services at ports of entry.”

GSA Acting Public Buildings Service Commissioner Michael Gelber pointed out that Pursuant to Section 559 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, CBP and GSA are authorized to accept donations of real property, personal property (including monetary donations) and non-personal services from private sector and government entities. Accepted donations may be used for port of entry construction, alterations, operations, and maintenance activities.

“The Donations Acceptance Program provides the Federal Government an important opportunity to better support Federal inspection agencies and border communities. The projects selected this year will allow CBP, the municipalities and GSA to improve processing times at these distinct land ports of entry. This collaborative effort furthers GSA’s ongoing support of CBP’s work. Additionally, it facilitates trade and travel that is vital to not just these communities but our entire country.”

Gelber said CBP and GSA will work with its new partners to establish a memorandum of understanding outlining forthcoming planning and development activities, obligations, and roles and responsibilities.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn

The Anzalduas Bridge Board seeks to construct and donate northbound empty commercial inspection facilities and related infrastructure and technologies at the McAllen Anzalduas Port of Entry. Cameron County, Texas seeks to construct and donate two to four northbound noncommercial inspection lanes and related infrastructure and technologies at the Veterans International Bridge Port of Entry. The City of Donna, Texas seeks to construct and donate northbound commercial inspection facilities and related infrastructure and technologies at the Donna Rio-Bravo Port of Entry. The City of Laredo, Texas seeks to construct and donate FAST lane relocation improvements at the World Trade Bridge Port of Entry.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn and U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar authored the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act, which was rolled into the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014. The legislation allowed CBP and GSA to develop public-private partnerships with international ports of entry

“Investing in our ports of entry reduces wait times, increases efficiency, and encourages commerce across Texas and the nation,” Cornyn said in a news release. “It’s only right these Texas ports are recognized for its role in our nation’s trade and travel. I’m thankful for Congressman Cuellar’s partnership on the legislation that has made this possible.”

Cornyn pointed out that as federal resources remain scarce, port communities have sought alternate avenues to ensure essential needs are met in the face of growing demand. He said the authority permitted under the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act allows CBP to better leverage limited resources to speed up the flow of traffic at international ports of entry.

Cuellar said Partnerships with local governments and the private sector will support improvements to border infrastructure and enhance staffing levels across port environments.

Cuellar said: “Trade is the engine of Texas’ economy. The outcomes made possible by our collaboration – making government more efficient, improving infrastructure, saving American businesses money – are non-partisan issues that all Texans can get behind.”

Anzalduas International Bridge

Rigo Villarreal, Superintendent of Bridges for Anzalduas International and McAllen-Hidalgo.

First news of CBP-GSA’s approval for a project at Anzalduas International Bridge came at a McAllen Economic Development Corporation meeting. McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said: “We are taking a look at northbound facilities. We are on the list for a public-private partnership whereby the federal government is going to take $7 million from us to build their facilities. That’s the way it is in the federal government. Once we get northbound facilities we expect to accelerate southbound facilities. So, that is a good thing.”

In a news release, Darling said the project will help spur Anzalduas into becoming a full-service commercial bridge in the future, able to cross goods and products in both directions. He gave credit to U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar and U.S. Senator John Cornyn for their help in creating the legislation that made the Donations Acceptance Program possible.

“As our area continues to increase in trade from our neighbor to the south into the northern part of the Rio Grande Valley, the opportunity to grow our Anzalduas International Bridge traffic will help our facility become more competitive, as well as more secure by strengthening our relationship with our counterparts in Mexico as we continue to prepare for future,” Darling said. “A great thanks to Cong. Cuellar and Sen. Cornyn, for not only always working together on projects that benefit the growth and security of Texas, but also and especially, for enhancing the border and our role in trade.”

Rigo Villarreal, superintendent of bridges for both Anzalduas International and McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge said: “I look forward to working with CBP and GSA on this important northbound empty commercial project to further enhance international commerce.”

Congressman Cuellar said projects like this one to improve Anzalduas International Bridge were exactly what he had in mind when he crafted the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act with Senator Cornyn.

“Our ports of entry are a symbol of the economic power of our state and our nation. Now, trade through McAllen will be faster and more streamlined. I would like to thank Senator Cornyn for working with me in a bipartisan way to create these opportunities for businesses and communities in our state of Texas.”

McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez said: “With the Anzalduas Bridge Board proposal selected for the Donations Acceptance Program, our bridge has a great opportunity to move ahead in its capacity and importance in the trade growth of our region. Thanks to continuous bipartisan efforts of both Congressman Cuellar and Senator Cornyn, CBP and GSA have an understanding of the importance of trade, travel and security to not only the border of Texas, but also, to the rest of the nation.”

Veterans International Bridge

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., said he wants to see between two and four additional northbound vehicular inspection lanes and related infrastructure developed at Veterans International Bridge.

He pointed out that Veterans International Bridge is the 4th largest bridge on the Texas-Mexico border. He noted that in 2014, Cameron County constructed a new twin-four-lane structure at the Veterans International Bridge, adjacent to the current structure, to improve the flow and safety of commercial traffic.

“Cameron County is taking a strategic and proactive approach on minimizing the wait times for all who cross our borders for both pleasure and business and adding that we appreciate our friends from Mexico and our goal is for travelers to have a pleasant experience when visiting our county, with the hope that they return frequently. In the end, everyone will reap the benefits of this project,” Treviño said.

Congressman Filemon Vela said: “The expansion of capacity at the Veterans International Bridge will improve conditions at the port for both the staff and also for the thousands who cross between the U.S. and Mexico every day. Increasing the number of lanes will reduce wait times and increase the speed and efficiency of inspections. While improving the flow of traffic at the Veterans Bridge will help alleviate some congestion, we must continue to do more to invest in our nation’s infrastructure including at our ports of entry, which are critical to trade and our economy.”

World Trade Bridge

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said the approval of a Donations Acceptance Program by CBP and GSA will assist the city’s planned $10.3 million FAST Lane Expansion Project at World Trade Bridge. Congressman Cuellar said the expansion will streamline international commerce through Laredo, eliminating costly bottlenecks and benefiting the local and national economy.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

In November 2016, the City of Laredo submitted a proposal for this project to CBP and GSA; those agencies approved it this week.

“The project will relocate FAST lanes to a new site on the north side of the federal compound, allowing FAST trucks a more direct route from the bridge, into the new FAST inspection facility, and on to their final destinations,” Mayor Saenz said.

Mayor Saenz provided a synopsis on the The World Trade Bridge FAST Lanes Relocation Project. Here it is:

Trade is the engine of economic growth for Laredo. In 2015, exports crossing over the Laredo bridges approached $92 billion, while imports reached nearly $113 billion. Between 2010 and 2015, the annual volume of outbound trucks crossing the World Trade Bridge soared 36 percent, to 1.73 million. Currently, close to 6,000 trucks now traverse the Bridge in each direction every weekday, often peaking above 6,500. Demand is forecast to grow in the 3-5 percent range per year.

The City of Laredo, in collaboration with the private sector, is undertaking a strategic and comprehensive initiative to capitalize on the potential for future growth afforded by the World Trade Bridge Port of Entry (POE). In support of this plan, the City is proposing the FAST Lanes Relocation Project. This high-impact project will eliminate a major bottleneck in the Port’s operations and improve its efficiency. The impact of the relocation will be immediate and dramatic: wait times for FAST traffic could plummet from the 30-minute range to the 5-minute range. Since one-quarter of the trucks using the Port participate in the FAST program, the removal of the chokepoints where they commingle with non-FAST traffic will benefit those trucks as well.

The $10.3 million Project will relocate the FAST lanes from their current location to an all-new site on the north side of the federal compound. This will allow FAST trucks a nearly ‘straight shot’ from the bridge into the new FAST inspection facility and onto the City streets and the Bob Bullock Loop (aka Interstate 69W). This new inspection area will include four primary inspection booths, a non-intrusive inspection (NII) area, two exit control booths and access to the current secondary inspection facilities and Hazmat area. This will be largely a ‘turn-key’ project, delivered to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the General Services Administration (GSA) in such a condition as to allow the relocated FAST lanes to become fully operational immediately. The adverse impacts on current CBP operations will be minimal and limited to the construction phase.

The FAST Lanes Relocation Project embodies a truly a ‘win-win’ proposition for both the City and for CBP. While the Project will confer tangible economic benefits on the community, it also will constitute a major advance in CBP’s efforts to convert the existing federal facility into a ‘Model POE’ for commercial traffic. This Project fits squarely into CBP’s goal of combining technology, processes and infrastructure to allow CBP to move commercial traffic more efficiently and with greater security. When considering ‘bang for the buck,’ it is hard to imagine a project that could benefit CBP more directly than one that supports FAST, its most efficient commercial program, at Laredo, one of its busiest commercial land ports of entry.

Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge

Click here to read the Rio Grande Guardian’s coverage on what the CBP-GSA Donations Acceptance Program will mean for the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge.

Editor’s Note: Reporter and editor Dayna Reyes contributed to this story from Donna, Texas.