The Free Trade International Bridge

Bird's eye view of the International Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios
The Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios Texas is a fast border crossing connecting major manufacturing centers and maquiladoras in Northern Mexico to Harlingen Texas and easy distribution across North America.

The Big Opportunity – Episode 1

From Harlingen Texas, we’re exploring the most exciting region for business and industry in America today… the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.

Today we are talking about the Free Trade International Bridge in Los Indios. Located only minutes south of Harlingen, the Free Trade International Bridge offers faster wait times, a new cold storage inspection facility and streamlined logistics via land, sea or air to any destination in the United States.

Find out more about the Free Trade International Bridge and see why Harlingen provides The Big Opportunity for retail, manufacturing, logistics, aerospace and healthcare industries.

Listen (11:11)

Opening: From the manufacturing and logistics hub of the Rio Grande Valley in Harlingen, Texas, it’s Business and Industry on the Texas-Mexico Border.

Raudel Garza: Hi, I’m Raudel Garza. I’m the CEO for Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, and today I’m talking with Kayla Thomas. Kayla is our new marketing and commercial development director. Kayla, welcome to Harlingen.

Kayla Thomas: Thank you Raudel.

Raudel Garza: We’re going to be asking or I guess Kayla is going to be asking me a lot of questions about Harlingen and we’re going to be talking about the Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios, today.

Kayla Thomas: Being new to Harlingen and the valley, I have learned a whole lot over the last few weeks, but one of the things I’m really interested in is the bridge. Raudel, can you tell me a little bit about the Free Trade International Bridge, how you access it. Tell me just about the bridge and where it’s located.

Raudel Garza: The Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios is located directly south of Harlingen and a small incorporated town called Los Indios. It is on a direct route from interstate 2, taking the state highway FM 509 south to the terminus of that highway, and that’s where the bridge is located.

A semi-truck on it's way to the Free Trade Bridge
Harlingen is at the center of North American Trade with a strategic location that allows a single distribution hub for all of North America.

Basically once you cross over the bridge, you get into an area of western Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas and you can pretty much access Rio Bravo and Reynosa to the west, and then you can go east and into downtown Matamoros and the area where most of the industrial development is.

If you go further south you’re going to go into the towns of San Fernando, Ciudad Victoria, Tampico in that area. Then you also have access to Saltillo, and then you can get into the interior of Mexico, where a lot of the industrial base is, such as Queretaro and even to the west, Michoacán and a lot of the agricultural areas. The thing about the Los Indios Bridge is that no matter what part of Mexico you’re from, you can get to it. It’s important in looking at trade routes, that if a lot of the product that’s coming from the western side of Mexico headed towards the eastern and northeastern parts of the United States, really comes through the Rio Grande Valley and it comes through the Los Indios Bridge and a few others rather quickly in comparison to going over land in Arizona or in California and then going east from that point. So truckers, shippers are saving themselves a lot of time by using the Los Indios Bridge. Then once they get to the bridge, a lot of bridges along the border are congested, while the Los Indios Bridge has some of the shortest wait times in the United States. On average, we’re talking about a 15 to 20 minute wait time, so the product is going to get across the bridge faster, get into the United States faster and then head to market a lot faster, as well.

Kayla Thomas: I know as trucks cross the border they must be inspected before entering into the country. Can you tell me why that matters?

Raudel Garza: Inspection processes at the ports of entries are obviously something that protects the United States in terms of any kind of contraband, illegal drugs, human-trafficking, that type of thing. So the US Customs CBP Border Patrol, they’re all there to protect and defend the United States, obviously right? But really, the inspection process for trucks is multifold. They’re trying to make sure that the bad stuff doesn’t get into the country, but they’re also making sure that for example, if you have agricultural products, that those products that are coming in are to US standards, that there are no insects that are going to damage the US products, that there are no diseased vegetables or fruits that can possibly hurt our population. But that’s really for the safety and security of the United States and the people in the United States.

Kayla Thomas: Earlier you mentioned that the Free Trade International Bridge is one of the fastest crossings. Tell me some of the other benefits of using the Free Trade International Bridge.

An aerial shot of the International Free Trade Bridge
The modern facilities at the Free Trade Bridge make the inspection process thorough and efficient.

Raudel Garza: As I said before, logistically, the Rio Grande Valley and specifically Harlingen we’re easy access to the midwest and to the northeastern parts of the country. We’re a few minutes away from the Valley International Airport. As soon as you cross over it takes about 15 minutes to get to the airport. If you head over towards the east on interstate 2 and you’re heading over towards the Port of Brownsville. If you’re heading north, you run into the Port of Harlingen, and so, both the Port of Harlingen, the Port of Brownsville are an additional intermodal, an additional mode of transportation for your products, whether it be by ship, by barge or by rail.

Using the Los Indios Bridge with trucks and then offloading and transporting those containers, those goods, via barge, via ship or even railcars is a very efficient way of transportation for a lot of companies. There’s a lot of maquiladoras in Matamoros and in Rio Bravo in Reynosa, and then even further into Mexico, specifically on the eastern side of Mexico, companies in Ciudad Victoria and in Tampico that can access that bridge and use our trade routes. Those are some of the benefits.

Less traffic is one of the bigger benefits, as well. It’s fast to cross Los Indios because it’s in rural area. There’s less traffic, and therefore when the trucks are coming across, they typically will see a shorter wait time because they’re shorter lines, and they go through that process a little bit faster. So, if shippers have done their paperwork, the customs brokers who have done their paperwork, they can usually get trucks through the Los Indios Bridge in pretty short order.

Kayla Thomas: Earlier this year there was a groundbreaking for a new cold storage inspection facility at the bridge. Can you tell me a little bit about that and why it will be a benefit to the area?

Raudel Garza: The produce industry in Mexico and the United States has been changing over the last few years. The transportation of that produce has really changed with the opening at the Matamoros to Mazatlán Highway in Mexico. Matamoros is the big city just south of Harlingen and Brownsville, and of course the Port of Mazatlan overall at the Pacific side of the coast of Mexico.

More cargo headed towards the Los Indios Free Trade Bridge
The International Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios is close to the Harlingen Industrial Park, it’s a quick and easy ride.

It used to be that the product that’s grown in western Mexico was shipped through Arizona, through Nogales, and most of the product from that point would either go to the west of California, northwest states or to the East, and typically wait times in Nogales were hours, if not days, and then you also had shipping times. Once you cross Nogales and go across the country it takes quite a few hours to get across, so you’re talking about several days to get from, let’s say Nogales to New York.

Now, you can ship from Mazatlan to Matamoros and basically to the Free Trade Bridge in Los Indios within ten hours. That’s one day. Then you’ve got another day to get to Chicago and to get to New York or to get to Atlanta, which is some of the major markets for produce. So, the cold storage facility was really designed to help facilitate that trade. There are some products, which obviously need to be in refrigerated cars and refrigerated units and refrigerated trucks, and when you get to an inspection station and by chance the customs inspectors says, “That truck needs to go to secondary inspection,” if those inspection facilities do not have a cold storage unit, then that product is now being exposed and the shelf life of that product has been diminished. So we decided to invest in a cold storage room that will be built in the GSA facilities, so that when a truck gets sent to secondary inspection, they don’t lose the charge in their truck. They back up into a room that is either at 46 degrees or at 36 degrees, based on the kind of product that they’re shipping. So, the farmer, the buyer and the shipper can all feel at ease knowing that their product is not going to lose shelf life going through the Los Indios Bridge.

Kayla Thomas: That’s an excellent addition to the bridge. Can you tell me how many trucks the facility can accommodate at one time?

Raudel Garza: Well, we’re starting out with two bays, which is basically about 3000
square feet of cold storage space, and we’re doing that just to make sure that we don’t get ahead of ourselves. We can accommodate three trucks at one time, one at the lower temperature and two at the 46- degree temperature. Now, that will take care of our demand at this point. If we see that there’s more trucks coming in and we need to send more trucks into the secondary inspection, then we’ll work with the federal government, with the GSA and CBP to try to expand on those cold storage facilities. But at this point we’re going to be able to handle any traffic that can come through Los Indios.

Kayla Thomas: Can you tell me a little bit about what types of produce require the use of the cold storage facility?

Raudel Garza: There’s quite a variety, strawberries… There’s frozen strawberries and then there’s fresh strawberries that come from Mexico. Tomatoes are coming in from Mexico, beets, cauliflower, broccoli. Some of those aren’t necessarily in need of refrigeration but a lot of them are. The different kind of avocados. Those are some of the big ones. Oranges and citrus, most of those are coming in from other parts of Mexico, but they still come through our ports, as well. So, a large variety of agricultural products are coming into the United States and always being shipped out into some of the larger grocery chains or restaurant chains.

Kayla Thomas: I know that a lot of people are surely very excited to start using the cold storage facility. When can we open it and welcome our first users?

Raudel Garza: We are in the process of finalizing permitting for the construction of the cold storage facility, and we expect to actually be operational by November of this year.

Kayla Thomas: Raudel, thank you so much for answering these questions for me.

You’ve definitely helped me learn a lot about Harlingen and the Rio Grande Valley. So, what can I learn about next time on our next podcast?

Raudel Garza: Well, I’m glad you asked, Kayla, ’cause you know what? I think we’re going to talk about logistics, about some of the logistics issues that might be encountered by some of the maquiladora or twin plants that are in operation in Matamoros, and that are setting up in the Harlingen
side of the border. It’ll be something that everybody can look forward to, because we’ve got some exciting news coming out.