Added to the possible TTC-35 and I-69/TTC and I-35 itself, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor, if fully restructured, would be a fourth major route shooting northward from the Laredo area.
Streets of Laredo
At 10 a.m., truck traffic is creeping along the World Trade Bridge as northbound freight from Mexico awaits inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Laredo port of entry. Wait times to enter the United States could be as little as 30 minutes or as much as several hours depending on whether a particular truck is part of the pre-cleared express program or delayed for stricter inspection by CBP agents noticing something that looks suspicious.
“The longest wait time we allow is about an hour on the bridge,” says Rick Pauza, CBP spokesperson. “Once trucks get into the processing center, the time to clear varies according to the level of inspection.”
Regardless, by midnight more than 5,000 tractor-trailers will have crossed the United States-Mexico border using the World Trade Bridge and the nearby Columbia Solidarity Bridge.
Laredo is one end of the bustling I-35 corridor. Since the NAFTA boom of the mid-1990s, the gateway city’s ever-expanding trucking business has put strains on the area’s infrastructure that are felt up and down I-35.
Once better known for their Old West heritage romanticized by movies, books and folk songs, today’s streets of Laredo are a far cry from cowboy yesteryear. In addition to being one of the fastest growing cities in the country, Laredo boasts this country’s second-largest international land port and the sixth busiest port overall. Each year, approximately 1.5 million trucks enter the city’s commercial zone. In 2005, the Laredo port of entry accounted for more than twice the amount of United States-Mexico trade dollars ($93.7 billion) than El Paso, its nearest competitor, and almost twice as much trade as the ports of Otay Mesa, Calif., Nogales, Ariz., and Hidalgo, Texas, combined.
Despite a cumbersome border-crossing process that involves hundreds of brokers, freight-forwarding businesses and drayage operations (freight shuttling across the border primarily using Mexican carriers), Laredo is continually working to improve efficiency. In 2000, the World Trade Bridge opened to handle a majority of commercial traffic that once was spread out over four Rio Grande crossings.
The federal government has also implemented programs like the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), which uses electronic manifests, and the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program, which is a pre-clearance system for participating fleets, to speed up border crossings. Both programs have resulted in more goods moving across the borders in Mexico and Canada.
While both countries are benefiting from NAFTA, Mexico continues to narrow the gap with Canada as the United States’ largest trading partner. If Mexico surpasses Canada in trade within the next decade, as some experts predict, the streets of Laredo will get a great deal busier. It may be here where any argument for some kind of “superhighway” really has the most credibility.