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I. Economic Factors Affecting Cross-border Transportation

By the end of the 1990s, the population in the largest Texas counties and Mexican states along the Texas-Mexico border had topped a combined 13.6 million.[2] According to Mexico’s preliminary census estimates, the population of the Mexican states bordering Texas—Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas—had increased 22 percent, to almost 12 million, from 1990 to 2000, adding 2.2 million residents.

On the U.S. side, the population of El Paso, Webb, Hidalgo and Cameron counties increased about 391,000 inhabitants, from 1.4 million in 1990 to 1.8 million in 1999—a 29 percent increase.[3] This population increase was due in large part to NAFTA, which helped catalyze border industrialization and the development of the maquiladora industry.

Since NAFTA was implemented in 1994 and through March 2000, Mexico’s maquiladora industry has been the most dynamic sector of the Mexican economy, adding 1,400 new plants and creating about 640,000 new jobs—increases of 68 percent and 110 percent, respectively, during this period.[4] Total maquiladora production was projected to reach $83 billion in 2000, with about $66 billion, or 80 percent generated by the border maquiladoras.[5]

In 1999, about 61 percent of the maquiladoras were located along the U.S.-Mexico border and 39 percent in interior Mexico. Most of the border maquiladoras are located in the cities of Tijuana (764), Mexicali (190), Juárez (331), Reynosa (115), and Matamoros (139). These maquiladoras employed more than 600,000 in March 2000.[6]

The almost 600 maquiladoras located in cities along the Texas-Mexico border employed 375,000 in March 2000. Total production in 2000 is projected to reach $49 billion for maquiladoras located in Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas.[7] New maquiladoras have started to locate in the interior of Mexico due to traffic congestion in the northern border cities.[8] The principal maquiladora industry sectors in these border states are electrical machinery, electronics, apparel, and auto parts.[9]

As U.S. and Mexican economies integrate due to NAFTA, trade between the two countries grew and led to increased truck traffic at the U.S. and Texas land ports of entry. The U.S. shares 2,000 miles of border with Mexico, of which 1,254 miles are along the Texas border. In Texas, twenty-three international crossings serve as overland ports of entry for trade (exports and imports) with Mexico. The 1999 value of U.S. trade to and from Mexico by truck through Texas ports exceeded $106 billion—$53.6 billion in imports and $52.6 billion in exports—an 85 percent increase from the 1995 total of $57.3 billion.[10]

In 1999, about 4.4 million (2.3 million into Texas and 2.1 million into Mexico) truck crossings were made through nine Texas ports.[11] The international bridges at Laredo alone, the busiest port on the border, had 2.8 million commercial vehicle crossings. The commercial truck crossings from Mexico over the nine Texas ports, for which truck crossing data are available, have increased 216 percent since 1990, from 726,000 in 1990 to 2.3 million in 1999.

Since the passage of NAFTA, the Mexican northern border urban areas have experienced rapid and dramatic population growth, outpacing population growth in Texas counties along the border. In addition, the border region continues to gain economic significance for Mexico, the U.S. and Texas, driven in large part by the maquiladora industry’s impact employment, trade, and commercial and non-commercial traffic between the U.S., Texas, and Mexico.

The above factors all contribute to increased traffic congestion, which impedes commercial and non-commercial traffic in the border communities and on border ports of entry. As a result, attention has been focused on determining how the federal and state regulation of commerce and law enforcement mesh at the border.[12]

The Texas Ports of Entry

There are 23 vehicular international bridges along the length of the Texas-Mexico border. (Figure A: Map of International Bridges and Motor Crossings.) The bridges are owned by the U.S. government, the State of Texas, local governmental entities, and private companies (Exhibit 1: Location and Ownership of International Bridges along the Texas-Mexico Border.) The Mexican portion of all of the international bridges spanning the Rio Grande is owned by the Mexican government.[13]

Figure A

Exhibit 1
Location and Ownership of
International Bridges along the Texas-Mexico Border

Bridge Name
County
Ownership
B&M Bridge at Brownsville
Cameron
Private
Progreso-Nuevo Progreso
Hidalgo
Private
Starr-Camargo Bridge
Starr
Private
Fort Hancock-El Provenir
Hudspeth
US International Water and Boundary Commission
Fabens-Caseta Bridge
El Paso
US International Water and Boundary Commission
Bridge of the Americas (BOTA)
El Paso
US International Water and Boundary Commission
Presidio Bridge
Presidio
State of Texas
Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates
Cameron
Cameron County and City of Brownsville
Gateway International Bridge
Cameron
Cameron County
Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios
Cameron
Cameron County, City of San Benito,
and City of Harlingen
Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge
Hidalgo
City of Pharr
McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa Bridge
Hidalgo
City of McAllen
Roma-Ciudad Miguel Alemán Bridge
Starr
Starr County
Juárez-Lincoln Bridge
Webb
City of Laredo
Gateway to the Americas Bridge
Webb
City of Laredo
World Trade Bridge
Webb
City of Laredo
Laredo-Colombia Solidarity Bridge
Webb
City of Laredo
Camino Real International
Maverick
City of Eagle Pass
Eagle Pass Bridge I
Maverick
City of Eagle Pass
Del Río-Cuidad Acuña International Bridge
Val Verde
City of Del Rio
Ysleta-Zaragoza Bridge
El Paso
City of El Paso
Good Neighbor Bridge
El Paso
City of El Paso
Paso del Norte Bridge
El Paso
City of El Paso

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

Major Bridge Systems

The major bridge systems of the Texas-Mexico border are located in Brownsville, McAllen-Pharr, Laredo, and El Paso. (Exhibit 2: Major Border Bridge Systems.) They include 14 international bridges, each unique in its own way—their sizes, types of traffic handled, and operating hours all vary.

Five of the fourteen bridges (Veterans Memorial, Free Trade Bridge, Pharr-Reynosa, Colombia, and Ysleta-Zaragoza) handle non-commercial, commercial and hazardous material traffic. Six bridges handle privately-owned vehicles only (Brownsville, Hidalgo, Laredo, El Paso bridge systems). Five bridges handle mixed commercial and privately-owned vehicle traffic and hazardous waste.

Nine bridges are open 24 hours a day for privately-owned vehicle traffic. Starting hours of operation for commercial traffic varies at these bridges: El Paso bridges open for 18 hours of commercial operations starting at 6 am all week, whereas the commercial hours of operation in Laredo begin at 8 am and close at 4 pm on weekends. Generally, bridges close around midnight.

Because of increasing trade with Mexico, the capability of the border’s transportation infrastructure to move goods has become increasingly important. Five of the eight major trade highway corridors that handle the majority of overland commercial and passenger traffic and connect both nations’ major production, urban and tourist centers meet at the Texas-Mexico border.[14] In addition several of the international bridges located in urban areas are load-constrained (Figure B: Map of U.S.-Mexico Major Highway Routes).

Figure B
U.S.-Mexico Major Highway Routes

Presidential Permit

Since May 1995, sponsors for new bridge construction over the Rio Grande must get approval from the Texas Transportation Commission before requesting a Presidential Permit to build. A presidential permit is the first step of the federal process to begin construction of an international bridge. The Commission review includes determining if the bridge is consistent with state and regional transportation plans, the bridge’s economic impact on the region, the environment, traffic congestion and on the free flow of trade. The Commission consults with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Texas Historical Commission, Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Texas Department of Commerce, and any other appropriate agency.[15] This review process may take several months.

After approval to apply for a Presidential Permit is granted by the Texas Transportation Commission, federal law requires a substantial review process before the President of the United States can issue a permit for construction. This review involves federal agencies located in the U.S. Departments of Justice, Treasury, Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Commerce, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense.[16] The process may take several years.

The highway construction projects on state roads leading to and from the bridges are planned and designed by the staff of four Texas Department of Transportation Districts (Pharr, Laredo, Odessa, and El Paso). Road construction expenditures during the 1990s for new road construction and improvements to existing roads leading to and from the international bridges totaled $580 million.[17]