LMT: Bridge I to undergo $27 million in renovations
Congressman Henry Cuellar announced Tuesday the awarding of $26.8 million for long-awaited renovations to the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge.
In June, Cuellar announced $62 million in federal funding for renovations to the Juárez-Lincoln International Bridge, also known as bridge II. The combined funding for renovations to both bridges in Laredo is approximately $88.8.
The port of entry at Convent Avenue, also known as bridge I, is about 70 years old — the oldest of Laredo’s four ports of entry. Its last major renovation was more than 25 years ago. This new funding will allow for a complete internal renovation of the main building to optimize the space to improve pedestrian flow through the port.
Currently, the bridge has eight pedestrian booths (three indoor, five outdoor) and four automobile booths. U.S.-bound traffic statistics for 2014 show bridge I had approximately 3.5 million pedestrian crossings and 1.3 million automobile crossings, with an estimated 2.5 million estimated automobile passengers. The facility needs an updated design to improve wait times, waiting conditions and accessibility for visitors with disabilities or other physical impairments.
As part of this project, improvements will be made to increase the number of pedestrian processing lanes to 14 and add a dedicated bicycle lane, reconfigure the primary car inspection lanes, upgrade and modernize the secondary area for further inspection, modernize security systems so drivers and pedestrians can flow through the port faster and renovate the pedestrian canopy to shade them from the sun while waiting in line.
All of these improvements will make the process of moving pedestrians and automobile passengers faster, safer and more efficient. This should reduce peak automobile wait times from 33 to 15 minutes, and peak pedestrian wait times from 49 to 21 minutes.
The renovations for bridge I will begin in April and will last approximately 22 months. Mexico-bound traffic, along with U.S.-bound bicycle and pedestrian traffic, will not be affected during this process. However, all U.S.-bound automobiles will be re-routed to bridge II for an estimated 14-18 months.
Construction for the $62 million bridge II renovation began in September and is expected to be completed by spring 2018.
Bridge II ranked as the busiest crossing for bus passengers in fiscal year 2014, with an average of 2,796 passengers per day (125-150 bus crossings per day). The layout of bridge II is outdated, which contributes to long wait times. Currently, bus processing occurs in an outdoor area that is ill-equipped for the massive bus traffic the port receives.
Both the bus and automobile inspections currently occur in exterior spaces, which subjects travelers to uncomfortable and extreme temperatures common to the area. The new design will include a new bus and automobile inspection canopies and the construction of a new combined bus and passenger vehicle inspection facility, which will improve the flow and processing of bus and automobile traffic. It will also provide a positive first impression of Laredo and the United States for travelers while providing for their safety and national security, Cuellar’s office said.
The improved bus configuration is expected to reduce peak transit times from 160 to 40 minutes.
“Laredo is strategically located between two great powerhouses for commerce,” Cuellar said. “This project, along with the current improvements that are already underway at the Juárez-Lincoln International Bridge, represents an enormous $88.8 million federal investment in our community.
“These international bridges provide a vital service to our area by increasing commerce and tourism and connecting families across the border. By enhancing traveler experience, shortening wait times and increasing both efficiency and security at our ports, we are investing heavily in a more modern and business-friendly Laredo that will aid us tremendously in our future growth. Families, travelers and businesses will be able to soon reap the benefits of these newly-improved layouts with state-of-the-art technology.”
Sylvia Hernandez, the regional administrator for the General Services Administration, said: “GSA is pleased to announce the award for the modernization of the Convent Avenue bridge in Laredo. The project will increase efficiency and improve safety and security for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It will also help CBP to accomplish its mission to safeguard America’s borders.”