Assurances sought on safety of Mexican highway

Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, talks following the announcement that the U.S. Department of Education awarded $21.2 million over the next seven years to UTRGV's GEAR UP program on Sunday during the kick off of the 16th annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology week, which runs through Oct. 7, 2018.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez on Tuesday asked that he receive assurances from the Mexican government that a highway safety program, which includes the stretch of road from Reynosa to Monterrey, is to be implemented before he will vote on the revised North American Free Trade Agreement.

“For the United States and Mexico to continue reaping the benefits of North American trade, each country must fulfill its commitments to efficiency, security and rule of law,” Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said in a statement Tuesday. “Proper implementation of the Safe Highway program will undoubtedly allow for the successful implementation of the United States-Mexico Canada Agreement and encourage more cross-border commerce. I ask that the Mexican government make it a priority to secure Highway 40D all the way to teach international bridge connecting Tamaulipas with South Texas.”

Gonzalez said he’s concerned about the security of commercial and passenger vehicle traffic traveling between the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, where no security restrictions have been in place.

This highway safety program, which Gonzalez said he discussed with Mexican officials during a trip to Mexico City this year, would help increase safety measures for this traveling between Reynosa and Monterrey, a busy road frequented by commercial trucks, which has made the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge one of the busiest international bridges in the country.

“It’s important” Luis Bazan, the director of the Pharr bridge, said of Highway 40. But Bazan said the initiative should also include security measures on the outer loop in Reynosa that connects to the highway.

“We’ve had issues with truck drivers getting held up. We’ve seen videos of some drivers getting their belongings taken,” Bazan said.

The new NAFTA — known as the USMCA, as Gonzalez referenced — was signed by the leaders of the three North American countries during a summit in Argentina in 2018, but only the Congress in Mexico has approved the pact. Congress in the U.S. could take up the deal for a vote this fall.

During a forum in Pharr on Friday, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, predicted that the U.S. House would vote on the updated trade agreement this fall. That decision rests with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who decides the voting schedule in the House.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who spoke alongside Cuellar at the Pharr Events Center on Friday, said of Pelosi: “She has to work the House and there’s nobody who knows it better than she does.”

Cornyn added: “I agree with Henry — if they tee it up in the House, then it will pass the Senate.”

Gonzalez last week wrote letters to the Mexican ambassador to the U.S. and to Mexico’s secretary of security and civilian protection, urging the implementation of the highway safety program.

“I understand the importance of ratifying the USMCA,” Gonzalez wrote. “However, I am reluctant to support the agreement without a timeline for implementation of the Safe Highway program and an assurance that the roads connecting Highway 40D with our international bridges will be covered by this program.”