Blogs, Talk Radio cited as influencing decision to "walk back" Black-tape Gate
From the San Antonio Express News
by Andrew Kreighbaum of the Laredo Morning Times
LAREDO — After 24 hours of criticism from blogs and talk radio on both sides of the border, the Texas Department of Transportation announced Thursday it would modify recent changes that removed references to Nuevo Laredo from two roadway signs on southbound Interstate 35.
In recent weeks, TxDOT had taped black covering over the words “Nuevo Laredo” on the signs indicating distances to Laredo and its Mexican sister city. The move followed requests by the Laredo Chamber of Commerce that scheduled replacement signs drop references to Nuevo Laredo because of concerns that Laredo had become associated with drug violence in Mexico.
TxDOT announced in a news release Thursday that the covering on existing signs would be removed within an hour. The department is replacing and retrofitting signage along I-35 to meet federal guidelines.
“I'm glad that they've reviewed this and they're going to make the appropriate change,” Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas said.
TxDOT will go ahead with plans to add new signs at milepost markers 55 and 66 absent the mentions of Nuevo Laredo. However, department spokesman Raul Leal said the department would add two new signs within 50 miles of the border listing “Nuevo Laredo, Mexico,” in accordance with a 1993 memorandum on guidelines from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
After media reports of the change this week, Salinas and Nuevo Laredo Mayor Benjamin Galvan Gomez met to discuss the issue. Salinas said TxDOT should have consulted city leaders and suggested new signs read, simply, “Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.” He said he spoke with TxDOT district engineer Albert Quintanilla about the change Thursday morning. “My focus is on promoting commerce and promoting jobs and promoting goodwill between the two cities,” he said. “We already have tension. We're living through hard times, and we don't need any distractions.”
Salinas took some of the criticism for the sign changes. Some local blogs accused him of hypocrisy for his relationship with Nuevo Laredo political leaders. He said before TxDOT made the changes that “we were not part of the decision; we were not part of the conversation.” Laredo Chamber of Commerce President Miguel Conchas said the sign changes were one of several efforts the chamber was undertaking to dispel misperceptions in the United States that drug violence was occurring in Laredo. He said Laredo businesses have trouble recruiting employees from out of town or even getting business partners to visit the city.