April 7, 2021 100 PM
PRESIDIO – A newly adopted master plan has identified policies, programs and projects that could help advance international trade at the Texas/Mexico border. That includes growth of trade by rail and road through Presidio, which one state transportation official called the “next frontier” for border trade.
Late last month, the Texas Transportation Commission approved and adopted the Border Transportation Master Plan by the Texas Department of Transportation, a comprehensive document that combined input from federal, state and local officials and stakeholders from both the Texas and Mexico side.
The document offers hard data about trade through the border in 2019, where it’s projected to be in the year 2050, and a roadmap for what can be done now to stop Texas and Mexico from losing out on financial opportunities.
Across the Texas border, funding for infrastructure has not kept pace with the increases in cross-border trade. Recessions and debt crises impacted funding, and through the entirety of the 1980s, only one new bridge was constructed – the Presidio Bridge, the international port of entry. That bridge is now under construction to expand and is expected to be completed by the end of 2021, introducing an additional lane for traffic on the northbound and southbound side.
Alongside the road bridge, the Presidio-Ojinaga International Rail Bridge remains closed as it continues to undergo rehabilitation following a fire over a decade ago. Rail trade in Presidio remained at $0 in 2019 due to the closure of the rail bridge, but is estimated to grow to $100 million in 2050.
In addition to the ongoing infrastructure improvements, TxDOT’s plan identified a “need for expanded train weight/speed allowances with improved infrastructure in addition to the recent upgrading of track sections leading to the rail bridge,” to allow for a higher volume of train traffic through the area. Those improvements would still need to find funding to move forward.
Currently, the movement of goods and people across the U.S./Mexico border generates 7 million jobs and $350 billion in gross domestic product for the two countries, and the report explains that within 30 years, that’s expected to jump to 20 million jobs and $1.2 trillion in GDP.
However, current inefficiencies discovered along the border, including delays at the ports, have already cost over $68 million in economic productivity, “a GDP loss of a little more than $5,000 per minute,” the report states. Without improvements, the losses would worsen as demand for cross-border trade grows stronger.
Presidio pedestrian crossings have grown by 825% between 2008 and 2019, and the local port is the only one to see growth in bus crossings, which grew 753%.
Crossing times are estimated to grow at all bridges over the next 30 years for passenger vehicles, and Presidio already sees higher crossing times than other ports, both northbound and southbound. The port is classified as “overutilized” for passenger vehicles, which the plan says will require operational improvements.
The opposite is true for its commercial use. The Presidio port is underutilized for commercial traffic, but is expected to go from 47% utilized in 2019 to 171% in 2050. Compared to the $239 billion in commercial trade projected in 2050 for larger ports in El Paso, the total commercial trade value at Presidio’s port of entry is more modest. Still, the plan expects Presidio trade value to more than double, reaching $2 billion in 2050.
Impact on local businesses
The report mentions that Mexican nationals are known to visit and shop in Texas, an activity that “generates revenues for local businesses and increases economic opportunities (jobs and wages).” Though recessions have slowed the once booming international shopping, the growth in entertainment, vacation and retail industries that attract Mexican nationals may be a reason job growth along the border has outshone other parts of the U.S., according to the report.
By adopting the plan late last month, state and federal funding is opened up for many border trade projects. Since most of the plan’s recommendations are so far unfunded, it could go a long way.
Senator Cesar Blanco, a member of the Senate Committee on Transportation, said in a statement that the plan “will serve as our blueprint for building the future of the border region. The BTMP is a game-changer for El Paso and the Big Bend Region.”
“The BTMP will reduce delays at our ports of entry, expand rail cargo processing capabilities, improve border data collection, and expand regional connectivity around the Texas/Mexico border,” the local state senator remarked. “These improvements will create extraordinary job and economic growth along the border and the State of Texas.”
The plan calls Presidio-Ojinaga’s U.S. 67/FH 67 an “emerging international multimodal corridor,” given its forthcoming rail bridge, expanding road bridge and potential for growth in commercial traffic. TxDOT is also taking note of Presidio for its potential.
Caroline Mays, director of the Freight, Trade, and Connectivity Section at TxDOT, said meetings have already begun that will help put proposals into action, but Presidio is ahead of the curve, since it has two major projects already underway.
Along with the expanded road bridge and reconstructed rail, Mays says TxDOT is figuring out funding to get Customs and Border Protection the resources they need to build a commercial inspection site at the port, an issue identified in the course of creating the master plan.
“The locals have to stay engaged,” she said. “That’s how you get funding: staying at the table, being part of the dialogue, being part of the discussion.”
Mays is a big believer in Presidio’s future, too. Laredo, a major trade center for the U.S., was able to be successful because of its location and connection with I-35. She believes Presidio is positioned well and now needs the right connections. “What Presidio is missing right now is the rail and highway infrastructure to allow trade to move through.”
“Presidio is strategically located. In Mexico, they’re talking about the Topolobampo to Dallas corridor and guess where that’s coming through – Presidio,” said Mays. “Presidio is the next frontier when it comes to emerging border crossings to facilitate Texas/Mexico trade.”