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Economic Explosion Expected Result of New International Bridge Graphic, LaserPhoto planned

July 30, 1991

LAREDO, Texas (AP) _ It’s been long maligned as the ″bridge to nowhere.″ But the newest span linking Texas and Mexico is expected to put the desolate region north of this border city on the financial map.

With a possible free trade agreement with Mexico in the offing, Laredo is looking for a big payoff when Solidarity Bridge is fully operational.

Tolls from the bridge, increased commercial traffic from Mexico, and economic development expected to sprout around the international port will provide a boost to the economy, officials say.

But for now, the bridge stands alone in the desert. The nearest commercial development is a convenience store off the highway.

Still, supporters believe the communities of Colombia, Mexico, and Dolores, Texas, which flank the bridge, will find themselves riding a financial boon.

Laredo city spokesman Robert Morales said many commercial and industrial developments are planned around the bridge and that should bring in more tax dollars.

″It’s definitely going to be a boon for the city once that development gets under way,″ Morales said.

Solidarity Bridge will be dedicated Wednesday by Gov. Ann Richards and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari in separate ceremonies on both sides of the border.

Two lanes will open that day with temporary toll booths and inspection stations. The bridge won’t be operating at full capacity for months.

The day the region becomes the thriving border community foreseen here is even farther down the road.

The sides of the narrow, two-lane road that links Solidarity with Laredo are dotted with signs that promise future development.

But its only visitors are the construction workers who crawl across the unfinished shells of buildings that one day will be inspection stations, processing rooms and toll plazas.

Travelers crossing the bridge in both directions will find themselves in a wide expanse of near wilderness with several miles to go before reaching any sizable city.

On the Mexican side, the road wanders by Colombia, a town of 500 residents, before disappearing into the desert.

In Texas, Laredo is a long 20 miles off, accessible only by a winding farm- to-market road that’s notorious for accidents and where traffic is often forced to crawl behind slow-moving trucks.

The city eventually will expand the road. Meantime, the hundreds of tractor-trailers that are expected to lumber across the border daily will have to creep along Road 1472.

″We know that there’s going to be overwhelming traffic but we just don’t know how much,″ said Audrey Adams, assistant district director for inspection and control for U.S. Customs Service.

All of those trucks and the attendant business will eventually roll through downtown Laredo - if, city officials can keep a group of landowners from diverting the traffic from the city.

Last week, Camino Colombia Inc. began lobbying the Department of Highways and Public Transportation to authorize a $34 million private toll road that would link the Solidarity Bridge to Interstate 35, about 20 miles north of Laredo.

The group broached the plan without consulting city officials.

″We look at it as detrimental to the city’s economic welfare,″ city spokesman Morales said. ″We look at it as a complete bypass. ... That means we’re going to be losing that dollar that would have stopped here - either to eat, to shop or as a tourist.″

The state is considering it, however, and Camino Colombia insists the project is not just in the best interests of the city, but essential to the bridge’s success.

″If we build our road, the bridge at Colombia will probably be the largest moneymaking bridge, just in tolls alone, over any other bridge on the Texas border,″ said Carlos Y. Benavides III, president of Camino Colombia. ″Without any toll road that bridge will go broke.″

Not so, say opponents.

And officials already are anticipating a rapid, expansion in the region.

″The impact is expected to be felt immediately, but to a great extent when the free trade agreement comes into play,″ said Miguel Conchas, an official with the Laredo Chamber of Commerce. ″Over the last 12 months the property value has skyrocketed. The growth is occurring.″

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