South Texas Triangle Op–Ed
2. Why the I-35 corridor is the unsung hero of the American household
Dr. Alberto Gómez
5 min read
2. Why the I-35 corridor is the unsung hero of the American household

It is an exciting time for South Texas.

We have defied the historical voices that chanted “look north” for business opportunities in order for San Antonio and the South Texas region to succeed.

Looking south to Laredo, 160 miles from San Antonio, and the many links along the Texas-Mexico border is where critical attention should be placed. An amazing interstate supply-chain corridor has been created between border cities and San Antonio. The I-35 corridor between Laredo and San Antonio has become a treasure.

The benefits to northern households and businesses, evidenced in the timely delivery of goods across the United States and Canada, make it vital for North American economic sustainability. The expansion of this corridor through improved infrastructure should be a federal, state and regional priority. Investment in technology and development in AI will also continue the growth of this key supply chain.

Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, share the border and have a combined population of some 700,000 people. These two cities have created a logistics and supply-chain mega-boom that is visible in the cargo truck traffic on Interstate 35.

On a typical workday, the I-35 supply chain corridor is responsible for the flow of at least 17,000 trucks (sometimes 20,000) coming in from the international bridges. Most of this traffic is northbound.  Some of this northbound traffic travels through San Antonio and onto multiple destinations in the United States and Canada.

Port Laredo is not only the largest inland international port in the U.S., but according to, “Port Laredo ranked No. 1 by value among all the nation’s 450-plus airports, seaports, and border crossings. Ranking it just against other border crossings, it ranked No. 1 by value and No. 11 by tonnage.”

Laredo surpasses even the iconic ports of Los Angeles, New York and Detroit.

I-35, unsung hero

The I-35 corridor between Laredo and San Antonio is the unsung hero of the American household. The goods flowing daily through the port and transported to multiple destinations are critical to the manufacturing, retail and medical industries.

This past May there was a 10.66 percent increase in trade flowing through Laredo, reflecting I-35’s growing importance to the U.S. economy.

With the recent challenges in maritime logistics and supply chain operations, international inland ports will play a visible role in the distribution of goods. American consumers remember the chaos in 2021 and 2022 when the Port Los Angeles faced delays in unloading hundreds of ships. 

Seasonal Christmas merchandise did not make it to our marketplace in time. This event shifted the focus to the essential role an international inland port can play in the timely flow of market goods across the United States. This has led to a renewed interest in nearshoring.

Nearshoring, the practice of relocating business processes and manufacturing operations to countries closer to the consumer, has been a proven success at the Texas-Mexico border since 1961. Strategically, it offers numerous advantages, such as faster shipping times, synchronized communication hours, and reduced risk of supply-chain disruptions from natural disasters or operations disruptions, such as the 2021 Los Angeles incident.

Spanning more than 1,500 miles from Laredo to Duluth, Minn., the I-35 highway is more than just a roadway. It’s a lifeline, vital in the supply chain, linking Mexico, the United States and Canada; and facilitating the flow of billions of dollars in trade annually. The I-35 corridor is positioned for continuous growth, but this brings challenges, especially for cities such as San Antonio and Laredo.

From congestion to safety concerns, modernizing the transportation infrastructure on I-35 is imperative. Action plans are needed for the support of the continuous and aggressive growth of the supply-chain industry. I-35 needs more lanes; non-commercial drivers need alternative roads to reach their destinations free from commercial traffic. 

A toll road between San Antonio and Austin is not enough; Drivers also need an alternate road from Laredo to San Antonio. Texas' existing roads barely contain the traffic volume, and the space required to protect corridors for sustainable competitive access remains a challenge. As border ports expand and flourish, as American consumerism and manufacturing corporations continue to demand timely delivery of products, maintaining this transportation infrastructure is an ongoing pursuit. According to a 2023 TxDot commission report — “I-35: From the Rio Grande to the Red River” — a critical segment of highway between Laredo and San Antonio has fewer than six lanes, while those that are north of this segment have more than six.

We must continually evaluate our logistics corridors as regional success hinges on a constant aggressive engagement.  Widening, adding and reinforcing roadways will always be critical; but, in addition, the I-35 corridor needs more rest areas and facilities for truck drivers. The provision of safe and comfortable spaces for drivers to rest not only supports their wellbeing but is a critical factor in sustaining the timely flow of goods.

Opportunity for innovation

Modernizing port transportation infrastructure goes beyond physical changes. It also involves technological advancements. Intelligent Transportation Systems, such as real-time traffic monitoring and adaptive traffic signal control systems; Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism  and the Free and Secure Trade  programs help manage traffic flow and improve safety, but more is necessary.

We need to explore further innovations, such as AI-driven predictive analytics, to truly optimize traffic flow and safety.

Border inspections are crucial for maintaining our national security and ensuring compliance with international trade laws. However, long wait times at border checkpoints hamper the smooth flow of goods. This remains a work in progress, with many issues to be resolved. 

Technology continues to play a significant role. Augmenting the automated systems in place for routine checks, utilizing AI for identifying potential security threats, and using blockchain technology for transparent and tamper-proof documentation to speed up the inspection process. Beyond this, promoting more use of the trusted trader/traveler programs in place could speed up the process for companies with a history of compliance.

These companies benefit from expedited checks, thus encouraging others to comply with trade regulations and become more competitive. Finally, the continued and improved collaboration between the United States, Canada and Mexico can also help streamline the process. By sharing information and harmonizing procedures, inspections can be made more efficient without compromising on security.

These times are also a call to action for all great minds that find technology solutions to trade challenges. Innovators and tech entrepreneurs can create pathways that will keep supply chain/logistics technology at the forefront so the supply chain industry can continue to grow.  In 2020, 44.5% of Texan jobs were in counties along I-35 according to TxDot's 2023 report.

The I-35 corridor is a testament to the interconnection of our international economies. Its continued success is not only crucial for the prosperity of our region, but also for the larger North American economy.  As we move into the future, our focus on strategic planning and innovation will be key to overcoming the challenges for continued growth and success.

Maria Eugenia Calderon-Porter serves as assistant vice president at Texas A&M International University and is director of the Office of Global Initiatives, Binational Center, and International Language Institute.

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