EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Border leaders say they will rely on their state and federal lawmakers to fight so that a piece of the recently signed federal infrastructure bill goes to improve ports of entry.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $110 billion for roads and bridges and $16.6 billion for ports and waterways. The bill doesn’t include funding for specific projects, according to U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar’s office. Escobar is a Democrat who represents Texas’ 16th Congressional District.
Ports of entry in the El Paso-Southern New Mexico region were experiencing explosive growth in commercial traffic prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest data shows commercial activity keeps growing at the Ysleta-Zaragoza and Santa Teresa, New Mexico, ports. But projects such as a feasibility study for expansion at Santa Teresa and additional capacity at Zaragoza could use the funding.
“The City of El Paso is committed to continuing to play a key leadership role in our region in addressing the infrastructure needs at our land ports of entry. We are working with our local, state and federal partner government agencies and industry stakeholders to pursue any and all funding opportunities that this new infrastructure package will provide,” the city said in an email to Border Report.
The city would like to increase vehicle capacity at its three international bridges to Juarez, Mexico, update technology and modernize buildings. Officials say federal funds could complement the International Bridges Capital Improvement Program, which aims to improve safety and security for private vehicles and trucks at the border crossings.
In nearby Santa Teresa, New Mexico, business leaders say the port of entry expansion study needs funding, as does the construction of a bridge over Union Pacific railroad tracks.
“We’re waiting to see if we are able to get some road money and some bridge money. We got our eyes on that and it’s something we might possibly get out of these (federal) moneys,” said Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association.
He said many ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border are in need of federal funding for repairs, technology or expansion. That’s why the federal government has a priority list.
“There’s projects that have been waiting a long time. There’s projects of medium-range interest and then there’s the projects that just got in line. We’re in the middle of the pack,” Pacheco said. “We’re probably not going to get any of that money directly, but it’s good for us that other ports get that money because they get taken off the list and we move up.”
Santa Teresa has now become the second-busiest commercial port in the El Paso Sector, surpassing the Bridge of the Americas. The growth has prompted Love’s Travel Stops to build a truck stop at Airport Road near the Pete Domenici Highway.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, said the state can expect more than $3.7 billion from the infrastructure bill.
That includes $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs and the chance to compete for a piece of the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program, he said.
“For decades, New Mexico has been held back by a systemic lack of investment in infrastructure. That’s about to change,” said Heinrich, who sits on the Senate Committee on Appropriations.