Press Release

Rep. Cuellar Announces Appropriations Funding and Language to Tackle Rail Congestion, Hazardous Materials Issues in Laredo

Includes $255 million in funding for International Railroad Crossings

LAREDO | Olya Voytovich, DC Press Secretary (202-226-1583); Leslie Martinez, District Press Secretary (956-286-6007), April 19, 2019

WASHINGTON-- Today, Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) announced funding and language he included in the fiscal year 2019 appropriations package intended to ease rail congestion at international rail crossings and address the problems posed by transporting hazardous materials through border crossings. Congressman Cuellar also secured $255 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Grants, which fund projects that address rail congestion.

The language stems from concerns originally outlined in a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), prepared at Congressman Cuellar’s request, which outlined the impact of high volumes of international freight rail in Laredo.

The GAO’s report focused on the negative effects rail congestion has on Laredo and found that 22 trains travel through the city each day - 11 U.S. bound and 11 Mexico bound, according to officials from CBP.

In Laredo, there are more than 80 points where railroads cross at streets used by drivers. Most disruptive are the 13 downtown railroad crossings, which halt drivers going to school, to work, to shop or to Mexico. According to CBP officials, a single stopped train in downtown Laredo can stretch nearly two miles from the border to Interstate Highway 35, causing massive congestion on local roads and lost money and productivity.

To address this issue, Congressman Cuellar included language in the appropriations bill directing the Secretary of Transportation to conduct studies on efforts to harmonize regulations and address congestion at international rail crossings, per the recommendations made in the GAO report. He also included language encouraging the Department of Transportation to consider the impacts of the unique transportation challenges caused by international trade on the southern border.

Congressman Cuellar also seeks to help ease the stresses placed on international rail crossings by helping secure $255 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The funding would be available for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Grants.

He also included language to continue the DOT studies on the standards and protocols required to facilitate a passenger and freight rail line between the United States and Mexico. This rail line is intended to increase the flow of free trade and grow the border economy.

Finally, Congressman Cuellar is also concerned about safety issues in the transportation of hazardous materials across the U.S.-Mexico border, including by rail. To address this issue, Congressman Cuellar included language in the appropriations bill directing DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to work closely with local governments, like Laredo, to reduce the risks associated with the transportation of these materials.

Other transportation-related wins Congressman Cuellar secured include:

  • $19,200,000 for terminal air traffic control facility replacement, including the one at Laredo International Airport
  • $98,850,000 for air traffic control towers improvement, including the one at Laredo International Airport;
  • Language directing the Administration to conduct assessments of contract towers that are substandard, such as the one at Laredo International Airport;
  • Language directing DOT to use federal funds designated for border state infrastructure to ensure participation of city and county governments along the southern border in project selection processes;
  • $350,000,000 for bus and bus facilities grant program, which makes federal resources available to states and direct recipients to replace, rehabilitate, and purchase buses and related equipment and to construct bus-related facilities.

“I am personally aware of the issues posed by rail congestion and hazardous materials traveling through our port regularly,” Congressman Cuellar said. “The congestion issue presents problems for the smooth passage of traffic and prevents additional freight traffic from making its way through Laredo, which presents our community with an economic loss.

“The issue of safe transport of hazardous materials is one that cannot be ignored. We need to maintain a fast and robust rail trade with Mexico, but we also need to ensure we do it in a safe way. That is why I have included this funding and language in the THUD appropriations bill so that the Port of Laredo continues to grow for the benefit of our community. I thank Chairman David Price and Ranking Member Diaz-Balart, along with my fellow appropriators, for including this critical funding and language in this legislation.”