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TribBlog: A Bridge to Somewhere

U.S. and Mexican authorities can still put aside their differences long enough to link the two countries together.

Despite the occasional finger pointing over immigration and crime, the U.S. and Mexican governments can still manage to build bridges – literally.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday joined in the official opening of the new Anzalduas International Bridge. The three-mile land port connects the cities of Mission, Texas and Reynosa, Tamaulipas.

The opening follows more than 10 years of design studies and negotiations between both governments, and comes at a time when cartel violence in Northern Mexico is at an all-time high. But while some in this world deem the Texas-Mexico border a lawless war zone, most locals remain undaunted and continue their daily jaunts across the Rio Grande for business, commerce, family matters and the like.

Calderon was joined by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-Mercedes).

“This bridge represents the most fundamental kind of trade: people-to-people transactions,” Kirk said in a prepared statement. “I’m talking about Mexican and American families crossing the river to shop, to visit, to provide a service, or to get a meal – to literally get a taste of the other side.”

Since its “soft opening” about a month ago the port has witnessed an average of 2,400 vehicles a day, said City of McAllen Bridge Director George Ramon. The four northbound lanes come equipped with the latest in Western Hemispheric Travel Initiative technology, specifically chip readers for passports or SENTRI cards travelers are now required to produce for customs officials when traveling back into the U.S.

Though not yet a commercial bridge, there are hopes the port will expand to include that capacity in five years - it facilitates travel to the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone, a 775-acre spread that includes more than 400 companies. The bridge is also the first certified “green” bridge as designated by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system

Not to be outdone, the City of Laredo announced last week it will begin expanding its World Trade Bridge, a commercial port on the city’s north side and a major reason the city is still the nation’s No. 1 inland port.

The $4.6 million project will add seven new lanes and inspection booths. City officials have said for years expansion would be needed in order to remain the No. 1 inland port - and continue reaping the financial benefits of being so. Looks like the Valley is intent on catching up.

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