Northbound commercial traffic at the Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates keeps growing, and with it the need for additional lanes to address delays and congestion.

Northbound commercial traffic at the Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates keeps growing, and with it the need for additional lanes to address delays and congestion.

At a hot, humid ceremony early Monday at the bridge’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection import lot, federal, state, county and city officials gathered with CBP officials to celebrate the symbolic groundbreaking of the FAST Lane Expansion Project, which will add four commercial primary lanes at the bridge.

Cameron County, which owns and operates Veterans Bridge, is paying $800,000 for the expansion, which should be complete in under a year. Once the new lanes are in, CBP will install $7 million worth of x-ray technology that can scan trucks while they’re rolling. Now, all trucks have to stop to be inspected.

Tater Ortiz, director of the CBP Brownsville Port of Entry, said 90 to 100 commercial trucks pass through Veterans Bridge northbound each day and that he expects the number to double once the project is complete.

David Higgerson, director of field operations for the CBP Laredo Field Office, said Brownsville will be the first to receive the new x-ray equipment the CBP plans to install at all ports of entry. The new equipment and lane expansion is aimed at getting ahead of what Higgerson predicts will be a huge increase in commercial traffic at the bridge in coming years, driven in part by petroleum activity.

“You see all of these tanker trucks? You haven’t begun to see anything,” he said. As we go forward and the petroleum starts expanding, you may see net exports out of the Port of Brownsville. I’m talking like natural gas, petroleum products. I’m telling you, the future is very bright for this area.”

Despite the expedited crossing times, security at the port of entry won’t be sacrificed, Higgerson said.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela,D-Brownsville, who facilitated the project expansion, said Higgerson “appropriately has begun to prepare all of our ports of entry for the future.” Vela cited the federal government’s forecast of exponential growth in commercial traffic at the border.

A more complete version of this story is available at www.myBrownsvilleHerald.com