New Cross Border Pilot Program to begin Jan. 5, 2009 in Laredo Texas


International truck freight will cross the border in Laredo more efficiently starting Jan. 5 when the World Trade Bridge expands operations to 24 hours a day, five days a week in a six-month U.S.-Mexico pilot test program.

The main beneficiaries will be grocery stores in Texas and Mexico because of more timely deliveries of perishable goods, and factories that operate around the clock and need just-in-time deliveries.

“The benefit will be seen all up and down the supply chain,” said Roger Creery, Laredo Development Foundation executive director.

A formal announcement of the bridge’s expanded hours will be made today at a news conference planned by the city of Laredo Bridge Department at the commercial truck-only bridge. The bridge opened in 2000 at a cost of about $100 million.

The World Trade Bridge now crosses about 4,500 trucks per day northbound and about 4,000 southbound. The bridge, manned by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and Mexico’s customs service, already handles the most cargo of any U.S.-Mexico crossing.

Laredo business leaders believe about 600 to 800 trucks will shift to nighttime crossings, reducing average waits during daytime periods by one-third to one-half, depending on whether trucks arrive at peak or nonpeak periods.

“In raw hours, the expanded hours will increase the bridge’s capacity by 30 percent; but in reality, if we see a 20 percent volume shift to the evening, it will be successful,” Creery said.

“This will keep (trucks) rolling,” added Tom Wade, president of the Logistics & Manufacturing Association of Port Laredo. “If a truck arrives at the bridge at 10 or 11 p.m., it usually is destined to wait until 9 or 10 a.m. the next day to cross.”

The bridge is expected to improve its efficiency further next summer when another seven lanes of truck processing will be added to the eight that already operate, Creery said. The expanded hours and additional lanes will reduce the need to build another truck bridge in the future, he added.

The expanded hours also will allow Laredo to market its bridge as a better crossing point for perishable goods. “Agricultural (inspection) specialists will be on hand all hours so we will make a big push on perishables,” Creery said. “Companies that ship perishables can’t afford to have their products halted overnight.”

Manufacturing companies in Texas and Mexico often operate 24 hours a day. Being able to stagger deliveries around the clock will allow manufacturers to rely more on just-in-time deliveries, which reduces the need for inventories and allows for improved productivity, Creery explained.

Although the expanded hours initially only will spread out the total number of trucks that cross each day, the total number could grow by an additional 500 per week in the next few years, Creery predicted. The growth would come from manufacturing that had moved a decade ago to low-wage Pacific Rim countries but now are returning to North America.

“They now know the true cost” of shipping manufactured goods across the Pacific, Creery said. “Some will move back to the United States side and some will land in Mexico,” he added.

“When it comes, we can market a true value-added process. We will have a 24-hour bridge that will line up with the desire of companies for just-in-time deliveries to support 24-hour operations.”

Trucks crossing at, for example, Reynosa, Mexico, and McAllen, won’t shift to Laredo, but global shipments could target the Laredo bridge when sending freight into the United States because it will open at all hours, Wade said.

Laredo’s World Trade Bridge will be one of three U.S.-Mexico commercial border crossings that operate 24 hours a day, except weekends, in a U.S.-Mexico pilot project. The other crossings are at Otay Mesa, on the California-Mexico border, and at El Paso.

Wade predicted the new hours would become permanent after the six-month trial period. “Once it starts, it will be hard to turn it off,” he said.