Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Thursday hailed a bipartisan victory after an effort to cut red tape to speed up the approval process for international bridge projects was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Cruz touted it as a win for not only for Texas but the country.
“It is an enormous victory for South Texas and for all of Texas and for the country,” Cruz told Fox News Digital after a press conference in Laredo, Texas. “It is a victory for Texas farmers and ranchers. It is a victory for small businesses and manufacturers. It is a victory for consumers who will have cheaper prices at the grocery store and the department store. It is a victory for national security.”
Cruz spearheaded the push to streamline the presidential permitting process for building international bridges at the southern border with Mexico.
The bill gives the State Department a 60-day window to make a recommendation to the president whether to grant a bridge permit. That gives the president another 60 days to approve or deny it. A presidential permit is now permitted before an environmental assessment, rather than only after it is completed, which has been the practice under the Biden administration. Business leaders said this led to years-long delays.
Cruz was joined in the effort by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas; Rep. Monia De La Cruz, R-Texas; Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas; and Rep. Vicente Gonzales, D-Texas. The legislation also has the support of a number of business groups, representatives of which appeared at a press conference in Laredo to emphasize the importance of the project.
The streamlining has an immediate impact on the status of multiple construction projects in the south Texas area, including the construction of new bridges and the expansion of two others, like the World Trade Bridge in Laredo.
Cruz says he has been fighting to speed up the permitting process since 2021, when it was brought to his attention by city leaders in Laredo that there were roadblocks in the approval process for multiple bridge projects due to the new environmental requirement.
“It delayed all four of them by several years, and it made no sense,” he said.
He joined with lawmakers from both parties and pushed the administration to change course on the review policy. When that didn’t change, he introduced legislation that was included as an amendment in the State Authorization Act and ultimately attached to the NDAA. That was signed by President Biden in December.
“It went to the House, and there were multiple battles over this provision. And there were at least a half dozen times when it appeared this provision might get stripped out of the legislation,” Cruz said. “But I worked very closely with Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, to defeat those efforts and, ultimately, the House passed the NDAA with this provision included with an overwhelming bipartisan vote. And then President Biden signed it into law on Dec. 22.”
As a result, the bridges are on track to receive permits if approved by the latter half of April.
Cruz noted that manufacturing is increasingly being pulled out of China and being brought to either the U.S. or Mexico.
“So, it is enormously consequential,” Cruz said. “And there are tens of thousands of jobs in the state of Texas that are directly implicated and will grow as a result of this.”
He also argued that the streamlined process is better for the environment, arguing the expansion of the World Trade Bridge from eight lanes to 18 will reduce traffic congestion.
“On any given day, you can go down to that bridge, and on the Mexican side you will see a line of 18-wheelers that can extend 4, 5, 6 miles, and they sit there for hours after hours spewing pollution into the air,” he said. “It is much better for the environment to not have those trucks stuck there in those unnecessary waiting lines, but rather to expedite their moving across the bridge.”
For Cruz, it’s the latest bipartisan legislative effort he has guided through Congress, and he highlighted collaborations with lawmakers who included Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.; Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.; and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., on issues including infrastructure and semiconductor manufacturing.
“And so there are certainly areas we can work together, and there are other areas, unfortunately, where we continue to have real and significant partisan divides in terms of the policies the two parties are advancing,” he said.