Laredo Morning Times, Texas
New International Bridge Aims to Help Laredo Remain No. 1 Inland Port
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Already the No. 1 inland port in North America, Laredo is expected to further solidify its position and see substantial trade growth according to local leaders thanks to the planned addition of a second international railway bridge. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held Oct. 31. The $100 million project is being entirely funded by Kansas City Southern.
“When you do a $100 million investment for the bridge and the investments they have done in Nuevo Laredo and what they are doing on the U.S. side, it really means a lot,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said. “Right now they are doing about 24 trains per day. With a new bridge, they will double this in the future up to 44 or 45 trains per day, which is incredible. Each train carries about $5 to $10 million worth of goods.”
Based on the estimate of $5 million to $10 million worth of goods per train, an increase of 21 trains per day would mean transporting an additional $105 million to $210 million worth of goods per day. That would be an increase of $38.3 billion to $76.6 billion worth of goods transported per year.
“Think about Texas as a heart and the United States as a body, and think about Webb County and good old Laredo, Texas, as the aorta. If you plug us up, you will lose the heartbeat and you will lose the body,” Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina said. “What we are doing here is extremely important.”
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According to Cuellar, the current track is already responsible for the annual transportation of 175,000 finished vehicles, 1.7 billion liters of gasoline or diesel, 2 million tons of grain or food products, 1.4 tons of metals or forest products and 50,000 loaded intermodal containers. Adding a double track that allows travel in both directions without stopping is expected to significantly increase these totals. The trains will be able to operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
“We want to increase fluidity, move trains quicker through the community and do everything we can possibly do to make sure Laredo remains the No. 1 port in North America,” KCS president and CEO Patrick J. Ottensmeyer said. “We are here to make a meaningful contribution to the growth and economic prosperity in the nations and communities we serve. ... We look forward to, for many, many years to come, playing an important role in the prosperity of this community.”
Along with the addition of goods transported, the new international railway bridge will provide a notable boost to local jobs. KCS already has 162 employees in Laredo with 130 in transportation, 15 in mechanical, 10 in engineering, three in network operations, two in railway security, one in claims and litigation and one in information technology.
“When you look at the 162 jobs they have here in Laredo, good paying jobs, that is a lot,” Cuellar said. “That is going to increase with more trade. When they are here they have to get supplies, fuel and other things, and that is good for the Laredo economy.”
Patrick Ottensmeyer, president and chief executive officer of Kansas City Southern, speaks during the Mexico Business Summit in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. (Mauricio Palos/Bloomberg News)
The new bridge will be 1,150 feet long and located about 35 feet from the current bridge, and construction will be done concurrently on both sides of the border. The project will include seven steel spans weighing about 2,900 tons to be placed on top of the structure. It will also include eight drilled shaft and pile foundations and a cast-in-place concrete substructure. The first steel for the project is expected to be ready in late February, and the estimated completion date for construction is October 2024.
“This is really historic. It has been over a hundred years since we built the first bridge,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said. “The fact the private sector is investing $100 million is a huge indicator of what they foresee in the future. That is economic growth and jobs throughout Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. KCS and their association with the Canadian and Mexican railroads is huge. We are fortunate to have them here. They believe in Laredo and they believe in our location. Obviously logistics plays a huge factor in transportation.”
While the project will increase trade and jobs, it will also aim to decrease traffic congestion. Trains on the current railway travel in four-hour increments going four hours northbound and four hours southbound. The new bridge allowing trains to simultaneously run northbound and southbound will help to limit traffic stoppages.
Rep. Henry Cuellar
“That is important not only to increase trade but to relieve traffic congestion,” Cuellar said. “Instead of the trains stopping, they will be able to flow across. That means less congestion to the citizens of Laredo and Webb County. There will be less noise and less blockage of the streets which is important to us.”
Other projects in the works include a secure corridor through downtown Laredo with bridges, tunnels and a quiet zone. Funding for that will come from Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants. Cuellar played a part in growing funds for those grants from $375 million in fiscal year 2021 to $625 million this year.
“We will be working on quiet zones, because it is going to be more traffic and more movement of goods through our streets,” Saenz said. “We are working very closely with them. They are in the process of financing through grants some of these quiet zones. They benefit, we benefit, and the industry overall benefits. Ultimately it is the consumer that benefits. More trade means more accessibility to products and goods at better prices.”
The timing of the new bridge could prove essential as trade is expected to see an even bigger boost due to a pending deal with Canada. Kansas City Southern is in the final stages of combining with Canadian Pacific to create a North American transnational, transcontinental railway running throughout Canada, the United States and Mexico. The deal is pending final regulatory approval from the Surface Transportation Board.
“We love Laredo and we love Nuevo Laredo. We are going to be here for a long time to come, and we look forward to even better things to come when we become part of this amazing North American rail network,” Ottensmeyer said. “This significant private investment in infrastructure, along with the proposed combination of Canadian Pacific and KCS, pending regulatory approval, will connect customers on both sides of the border to new markets, enhance competition in the U.S. rail network and drive economic growth across North America.”
KCS also already began a $3 million project renovating the existing Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection building in Laredo, and it will reconstruct the KCS Operations Security Building in Nuevo Laredo.
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