(TNS) — After the World Trade Bridge sustained significant damage from a rain and wind storm in May, local Customs and Border Protection (CBP) leaders got together with various elected officials to work on getting the most out of the situation: namely, $100 million in technology and infrastructure improvements.
A large crew of elected officials and leaders in trade met at the World Trade Bridge on Wednesday morning to discuss the port's progress in recuperating from the storm and blueprints for its future.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said the bridge will become a test bed for the latest technology, turning what is already the busiest commercial port in the country into a World Trade Bridge 2.0.
In May, CBP officials like Director of Field Operations David Higgerson and Assistant Director of Field Operations for Trade Bradd Skinner recommended to Cuellar that they take advantage of the loss of infrastructure at the bridge and improve upon it.
"Last time I was here, David Higgerson took me aside and said, 'Hey, can we get lemonade out of this?'" Rep. Henry Cuellar said, referring to the storm damage.
So Cuellar went on to speak with several CBP officials at the federal level, who came up with a plan for Laredo, which included $100 million in technology and infrastructure improvements.
Five million dollars from the Fiscal Year 2017 Appropriations Bill will be the start of federal contributions, which will take three to five years to accrue, Cuellar said.
These will go toward advancements such as non-intrusive inspection equipment, aka X-ray equipment.
"This is going to give us a very clear picture of what's inside that truck. It's going to help us with our risk-assessment, law-enforcement mission," Skinner said at the news conference Wednesday. "These truck portals can handle upward of 150 trucks per hour."
Skinner said this equipment paired with a new software platform would enable officers to make very quick determinations.
This group is also hoping to initiate a customs pre-inspection facility similar to what is in place at the Laredo International Airport: Customs officials from both the U.S. and Mexico inspecting goods for export.
Cuellar said Mexico customs officers, Servicio de Administración Tributaria, are already working on this side of the border on a temporary basis to ease congestion after the storm damage. He hopes to have them at the World Trade Bridge permanently to inspect cargo going into Mexico.
This would involve building them offices and integrating computer systems. They are also planning for an airport-like cargo control tower at the bridge to monitor incoming trucks, Cuellar said.
"I guess this storm turned out to be a blessing, because a lot of other things are coming," Henry Gonzalez, president of Laredo Licensed U.S. Customs Brokers Association, said. "Anything that's going to improve and move the flow of traffic is really important."
These joint inspections and new technology may not only be for the World Trade Bridge, but for rail service coming in and out of Mexico. Cuellar called it a "secure corridor."
Cuellar said he spoke with the president of Kansas City Southern, and the first thing he said was that he wants joint inspection in Laredo.
The goal for the next five years is for trains to be going 25 miles per hour through Laredo and to not stop at the bridge, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said.
"In the next five or 10 years, we would like to see Laredo as the master of this technology on the whole U.S.-Mexico border area," Saenz said.
"I don't want to sound like Trump, 'big, big, big news,' but it really is a lot of big, big news," Cuellar said.
©2017 the Laredo Morning Times (Laredo, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.