Transportation officials, local leaders discuss freight plans for Highway 67

PRESIDIO — The Texas Department of Transportation last Thursday evening held its first regional workshop and roundtable in Presidio to discuss and hear feedback on what the agency calls the “Presidio Regional Freight Mobility Plan.”

On Friday morning, the agency held another get-together in Alpine. The Presidio Regional Freight Mobility Plan aims to improve “multimodal freight” (read: not just trucks) in the Presidio/Ojinaga region and comes as TxDOT works to overhaul transit in West Texas and beyond.

At least two other big related projects are in progress: The US 67 Corridor Master Plan, which is working to develop better transit from the Presidio Port of Entry to the Interstate 10 corridor, and the Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan, which aims to streamline transit all along the international border in Texas.

Around two dozen people showed up at the Presidio meeting. Among them were public officials and people who work in transport and border logistics, including some from Chihuahua state in Mexico.

At least two officials had come all the way from San Angelo — almost four hours away. Michael Looney, vice president of economic development at the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce, noted U.S. Highway 67 goes through their town as well.

People across the region have an interest in better trade through the corridor, Looney noted — not least in San Angelo, which could become a hub for revamped train traffic on the Texas Pacífico line once Presidio’s rebuilt rail bridge is opened.

Attendees broke up into groups, and officials and business leaders laid out their goals for the project. Alcee Tavarez, mayor pro tem for Presidio, said he wanted “all the affected communities to come together.”

“There can be a disconnect between Presidio and elsewhere” in terms of communication and planning, he said. He was glad to see officials from San Angelo in attendance.

Brad Newton, executive director of the Presidio Municipal Development District, said he wanted to see a United States Department of Agriculture inspection lab in town to help process food and agricultural imports.

César Ramos, vice president of business development at Lubbock-based firm Legacy PSG, said he was concerned about “the safety aspect” of U.S. 67. “Just take Highway 67 from here to Marfa,” he said. “You’ve got wide loads with nowhere to go.”

Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation then handed out road maps of the region, urging people to mark areas for attention.

“This helps us identify projects,” said Davonna Moore, a consultant for the project. “And if we can identify projects, we can make a case for funding.”

The meeting lasted for about two hours, with many of the public comments focused on truck traffic. But at the end, Vicky Carrasco, who’s helping plan the project with Kleinman Consultants, gave updates on train traffic — another major aspect of the project.

Texas Pacífico, a train transportation company, aims to restart international train traffic through Presidio/Ojinaga by next summer, she said. The expected cargo includes agricultural and oil and gas products.

Many of the suggestions to come out of the meeting were self-explanatory – more passing lanes between Marfa and Presidio, and more booths at the Presidio port of entry to better handle international traffic.

One of the more novel suggestions came from Brad Newton, the Presidio development director, who suggested that Presidio County, or parts of it, switch over to the Mountain Time Zone.

“I think since we’re very tied to port operations in El Paso and Mexico, it would only make sense for us to get on the same clock,” Newton said in a follow-up phone interview on Monday. El Paso is on Mountain Time — as is Presidio’s sister city of Ojinaga.

At the border crossing, two hours of an eight-hour workday are lost to time zones, Newton said. “We get to work early and quit early,” he said. “Mexico gets there late and quits late.”

Overall, Newton is excited about the prospect of improved transit and trade in Presidio city and throughout the region. “The phone is ringing from Mexico,” he said.

Cinderela Guevara, county judge for Presidio County, loved Newton’s idea. “If it would help trade flow at the Presidio port, I am 100 percent supportive,” she said in a follow-up interview on Tuesday. “It seems like it just makes sense.”

Guevara said officials are still discussing details of the proposed time change — including whether it would cover the whole county or just Presidio city. She says she’ll discuss logistics with Congressman Will Hurd.