BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — A bipartisan delegation of Texas lawmakers is so fed up with waiting for presidential permitting approval for new international bridges in South Texas, that it has reached out to the State Department for help to hasten the regulatory process.
Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, Vicente Gonzalez, and Republican Reps. Monica De La Cruz and Tony Gonzales on Tuesday sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken a letter urging him to bypass environmental regulations that require a full environmental assessment before his agency issues a recommendation to the White House on whether or not to issue presidential permits for these three new international bridges:
- The Flor de Mayo International Bridge in Brownsville.
- The 4/5 Bridge in Rio Bravo, southeast of Laredo, Texas.
- The Puerto Verde Global Trade Bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas.
They also want to expand the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, which is the largest inland port for commercial trucks in the United States.
“These cross-border bridges will expand such trade, creating vital jobs and economic opportunities in the Texas border region,” they wrote. “Infrastructure connections between Texas and Mexico play an essential part in our state’s and our nation’s economy.”
“Our nation depends on South Texas’s infrastructure and labor to successfully conduct trade with Mexico, one of our largest trading partners. These bridge projects are needlessly being put on hold while our communities and country continue to be negatively impacted,” Gonzalez said in a statement Thursday.
Gonzalez represents Texas’ 34th Congressional District, which would include the location for the new Flor de Mayo International Bridge.
“My colleagues and I agree that environmental studies are an important measure to mitigate negative impacts on our local ecosystems. However, there are other processes available that can provide a thorough environmental review without further delaying vital projects. In my district alone, the Flor de Mayo International Bridge Project has been delayed for years. We must eliminate bureaucratic red tape to ensure that South Texas’s infrastructure can meet the demand of trade and tourism for decades to come,” he said.
The State Department is the agency that recommends to the White House whether a new international bridge is warranted and in the best foreign-policy interests of the United States.
But the lawmakers point out that environmental regulatory requirements have “needlessly” delayed these projects. And they are asking for special permission to go forward as the environmental reviews are being done.
Plans “have been needlessly delayed because the State Department, after consultation with White House staff at the National Security Council and the Council on Environmental Quality, has told project sponsors that they must first complete a lengthy environmental assessment before a recommendation will be given. This additional bureaucratic hurdle should be eliminated because it is both unnecessary and ignores the positive cultural and economic impacts that make these projects in our foreign policy interest.
Lawmakers in letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken
“This additional bureaucratic hurdle should be eliminated.”
“We strongly urge you to ask the White House to remove the unnecessary requirement that
international bridge project sponsors complete a lengthy environmental assessment before the
State Department will make its recommendation to the president about a permit request,” they wrote.
They note that the president’s approvals could be conditioned on the bridge project sponsors completing environmental and all other permitting requirements prior to construction, consistent with how recent permits for cross-border bridge projects were approved previously in Laredo and Pharr, Texas, which is now the leading bridge for the fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico.
“Laredo is the nation’s No. 1 inland port of entry, and our infrastructure is critical to achieving that. I recently spoke with the White House’s National Security Council and Council on Environmental Quality to expedite approval of a Presidential permit to expand Laredo’s World Trade Bridge. The proposed expansion will add an additional eight lanes to the World Trade Bridge, bringing the total to 16 lanes and enabling more trade with our southern neighbor,” Cuellar said.
Cruz’s office tells Border Report that “he has been leading this effort.”
In a statement, Cruz said: “Many of the affected Texas communities routinely rank as some of the lowest-income towns in the state. They stand to benefit immensely from the expanded and efficient cross-border trade and tourism that these projects will bring.”
If approved, the Flor de Mayo International Bridge would be the fourth in Brownsville to connect to Matamoros, Mexico. It would be located in what is now farm fields just south of a suburban area that is on the northeast side of this border city.
Cameron County Administrator Pete Sepulveda told Border Report on Thursday that the Flor de Mayo bridge application was submitted in 2021, but a full environmental assessment could take two more years. And they really don’t want to wait that long.
The Border Trade Alliance backs the plans and earlier this week sent Cruz a letter thanking him for his support on this issue.
“We agree with you that modernized border crossings are of national importance, as they are essential to maintaining the U.S.’ competitive standing and ensuring the country’s ability to efficiently process international trade and travel. Requiring Presidential Permit applications to be subject to an onerous and overly bureaucratic regulatory regime risks dramatically delaying the completion of needed projects along the border and drives up costs,” the Alliance wrote.
Cameron County Commissioner Sofia Benavides is on the Border Trade Alliance. She began working for the county in 1969, and she told Border Report that plans for the Flor de Mayo International Bridge have been in the works “since the ’80s.”
“It’s been in the works for a long time,” Benavides said. “We all know that these transactions don’t happen overnight, they’re long in coming.”