On April 24, 2000, the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas, held a dedication ceremony to great public fanfare.

Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush attended the grand opening, along with President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico.

The eight-lane, $128 million World Trade Bridge crosses over the Rio Grande River and connects Laredo to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. It was constructed to handle the rapid growth of commercial truck traffic between Mexico and the United States.

“Today we are celebrating not just a bridge of concrete and steel, but a lasting alliance of common hopes and friendship,” Bush said, according to UPI. “To all who are willing, we will extend the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] — free trade and open markets throughout the Americas, from northernmost Alaska to the tip of Cape Horn.”

Mayor Betty Flores of Laredo had hosted a local opening ceremony for the bridge a week earlier, inviting Bush and Zedillo, who both declined to attend. Some have said the snub by Bush was political. Flores was a Democrat, and Bush was the Republican nominee for president that year.

Since NAFTA was signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 1994, imports from Mexico to the United States grew faster than from any other nation, according to a study by the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

“In less than a decade, commerce between the two nations has tripled. With its strategic position on the border, and its interstate highway connection to the interior of the U.S., Laredo sits at the epicenter of this economic boom,” the Center for Urban Transportation Research study said in 2002.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) went into effect on July 1, 2020, replacing 26 years of NAFTA.

Prior to the World Trade Bridge, the main commercial crossing was one lane on the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, or Bridge 2, in the heart of downtown Laredo.

Lines of commercial vehicles would stretch several miles from Interstate 35 South into downtown Laredo’s commercial areas, creating a dangerous mix of commercial and passenger vehicles, along with pedestrians.

The city of Laredo submitted a presidential permit application for the World Trade Bridge in 1991, which was issued in November 1994 by President Bill Clinton.

Construction started on Sept. 30, 1998. It was a joint effort by the cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.

More than 2,000 workers, of whom 50% were from outside the region, worked on the bridge’s construction. Many were housed in temporary homes built for the workers until the job was completed, according to the Laredo Morning Times.

Today, the World Trade Bridge — part of the Laredo port of entry — is the No. 1 land border crossing in the U.S., with 4,000 to 6,000 commercial trucks crossing daily.

During 2020, the Laredo port of entry accounted for $206 billion in two-way trade, led by passenger vehicles, commercial trucks, motor vehicle parts, car engines, gasoline and petroleum, computer products, and electronic machinery.

The Laredo port of entry was the No. 1-ranked port briefly during periods in 2019 and 2020, and currently ranks third nationally, trailing only the Port of Los Angeles and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

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