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Arizona's ports of entry experience significant growth in cross-border traffic

Mexican truckers, however, push for better access, treatment
April 16, 2014

PHOENIX – Despite an increase in commercial truck crossings from Mexico into Arizona – a key economic driver for the state – Mexican drivers have expressed concerns about access and treatment by U.S. federal inspectors that could threaten the continued growth in cross-border commerce.

The situation has gotten to the point that some Mexican truckers are threatening to institute a traffic blockade of the Arizona border crossings – a March 20 deadline had been given and the efforts of many officials have helped stave off that threat for now.

The trucking industry in Nogales, both Sonora and Arizona, have expressed concerns over the treatment, high number of inspections, high level of fines, and high number of trucks placed “out of service” by U.S. federal safety inspectors. In some instances, the levels of fines and “out of service” rulings are disproportionately high at Nogales and Arizona’s other commercial gateways (San Luis and Douglas) when compared to other parts of the border in Texas and California.

While the Arizona Department of Transportation doesn’t take a position on the merit of these grievances, the department is urging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to carefully consider these complaints and to resolve differences with the trucking industry to avoid a blockade.

ADOT Director John S. Halikowski is hoping that a blockade can be avoided in this high-intensity commercial travel season. During the peak of the produce season, between 1,500 and 2,000 trucks are processed every day.

“A blockade would have detrimental and long-standing repercussions for Nogales and the entire Sinaloa-Sonora-Arizona corridor as Arizona looks to enhance competitiveness with other U.S. border states,” Halikowski said. “The United States and Mexico are engaged in a high-level dialogue to promote competitiveness and connectivity along with fostering economic growth and productivity. But without an effective and efficient border, our two nations would not be able to reach their maximum potential. Our work on the border is critical to Arizona’s and the nation’s future.”

Two-way vehicular traffic at Arizona’s international ports of entry is on the rise. In 2013, 16.3 million cars crossed at the ports, versus 15 million cars in 2012. Truck traffic increased from 754,000 crossings in 2012 to 763,000 crossings in 2013. And 1,730 trains crossed at the border in 2013, compared to 1,300 trains in 2012.

Whether by car, truck or train, cross-border traffic between Arizona and Mexico is critical to the tourism, trade, commerce and economic development of both regions. New numbers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that two-way flows at Arizona’s six international ports of entry rose significantly in 2013 when compared to just one year before.

Mexico is a critical partner with Arizona, with $14.1 billion in bilateral trade occurring annually. Close to 40 percent of all fresh produce consumed in the United States during the winter makes its way through the Nogales Port of Entry alone.

The increase in the flow of goods across the border highlights some key points, such as higher value commerce is moving through Arizona’s international ports of entry, and the dramatic growth in rail traffic reaffirms ADOT’s commitment to multimodal operations at the border. In addition, as pedestrian and vehicle traffic has grown, the wait times to cross the border have decreased overall. This is largely due to major infrastructure improvements at Arizona’s international ports of entry.

“Arizona and our federal partners have been working tirelessly to ensure that our ports of entry are modernized so that we can remain competitive with other border states,” said Margie Emmermann, executive director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission. “We are seeing the fruits of our labor as flows of people and trade at our ports of entry are on an upward trend. This marks the third year that our numbers demonstrate substantial growth in both trade and people crossing the border, and we expect this trend to continue.”

Over the past six years, Arizona and its federal partners have invested more than $450 million in state and federal funding for improvements to border infrastructure, including improvements to support the efficient movement of commercial and non-commercial traffic.

Currently, a $225 million project to modernize and expand the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales is nearly complete. Once the port is fully operational, these improvements will speed the processing of commercial and non-commercial traffic at one of the largest ports of entry on the entire U.S.-Mexico border. In addition to improvements at the port of entry – which now has 12 vehicle lanes, eight commercial vehicle lanes and facilities for pedestrians – ADOT has invested more than $20 million in the area’s roadway transportation infrastructure.