EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The El Paso City Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution of a five-year vision for area border crossings to keep pace with economic and demographic trends.
That vision includes a possible expansion of the Ysleta Port of Entry, an additional car lane at the existing structure, dedicated pedestrian lanes to reduce wait times, and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements.
The $42.8 million in International Bridges Capital Improvement Program for 2022-2026 is heavily weighted toward Intelligent Traffic Systems at and north of the Ysleta and Bridge of the Americas ports of entry. That can include anything from traffic control devices to structures that improve vehicular flow. The $5 million traffic study for the Ysleta Port of Entry expansion/modernization feasibility study was listed as a “long-term goal” and is outside the CIP approved Monday.
“It’s important that we, as a body, continue to have an aggressive vision towards this community and the opportunities that are here,” City Rep. Peter Svarzbein said. “The fact is we need to be looking after not just how we get not just goods over the border safely and efficiently in a 21st century economy, but also human capital: people and their ideas and their dreams and their businesses as well.”
International Bridges Department Director David Coronado said the CIP includes 292 projects, big and small, and will be user-funded. The State of Texas is providing $32 million, while the rest of the $42.8 will come from tolls.
“We collect the tolls for southbound trips, whether on vehicles or on foot. We retain a portion of those funds to fund these initiatives. It’s a pay-as-you-go program,” Coronado said.
The City of El Paso owns three international bridges going into Mexico: Paso del Norte and Stanton Street in Downtown and Ysleta-Zaragoza in El Paso’s Lower Valley.
While there are plans to improve toll collections and create a Fast Pass lane at Stanton in the next two years, some work could get done at Ysleta sooner.
“This is a huge one we’re trying to get funded, adding a lane at Ysleta and study for a port expansion,” Coronado said. “Right now, we have seven lanes at Ysleta, we want to have eight and have two dedicated lanes on each side (with) pre-pay. That will help with staffing and scheduling and can make a big difference and hopefully reduce wait times for our customers.”
The CIP includes $650,000 for the additional lane and lane assignments at Ysleta.
International bridge traffic dropped with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but commercial or cargo traffic quickly recovered. Most of that centers around Ysleta – a trend that’s likely to continue with most of El Paso’s commercial transportation hubs and Juarez, Mexico’s factory growth proceeding eastbound.
“Everything is growing to the east on both sides, including maquiladoras and warehousing,” he said.
The city in the past few years has been racing to prevent bottlenecks that could affect the region’s industrial growth. That’s one of the reasons their P3 program, which reimburses U.S. Customs and Border Protection for overtime at city-owned crossings, remained in force on commercial lanes even during the pandemic.
“Winn Road (at PanAmerican) added 4 miles capacity at Ysleta to separate trucks and vehicles, so we don’t have bottlenecks on Zaragoza (Road),” Coronado added.
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez endorsed the CIP.
“We never had dedicated funding sources for (international) bridges. They’re treated like a system now,” he told the council. “it produces revenue. We have to maintain that, we have to grow that.”