New Mexico border crossing struggling to keep up with growth

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Leaders call for expansion at Santa Teresa border crossing, where giant blades for wind turbines must squeeze past narrow lanes

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — New Mexico’s fastest-growing port of entry will lose business opportunities if it doesn’t get a makeover soon.

So say industry leaders and local government officials working on a redesign to accommodate a tenfold increase in truck traffic since the Santa Teresa port of entry opened in New Mexico more than two decades ago.

“We have been very successful in attracting out-of-state and out-of-country companies, but that will rapidly stop if we don’t keep investing in our infrastructure,” said Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association.

Santa Teresa was conceived in the 1990s as a “relief route” for commercial trucks coming from Mexican manufacturing plants seeking to avoid bottlenecks at border crossings in nearby El Paso, Texas. While still the fastest alternative for truckers in the region, traffic volumes continue to rise and the port needs federal dollars to accommodate heavy cargo and hazardous materials, officials say.

Trucks carrying blades for wind turbines sit on the side of the road in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Industry officials say an expansion of the port of entry is needed to accommodate an increasing number of trucks carrying heavy and oversized cargo to and from Mexico. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

“We’ve talked about additional commercial cargo lanes and expansion to accommodate oversized, overweight vehicles. We have these huge wind blades that are having a really hard time moving through our port, both northbound and especially southbound. They block traffic two, three hours at a time going the wrong way, so we need to be able to accommodate that traffic,” said Marco Grajeda, executive director of the New Mexico Border Authority.

He said the state agency is working with industry leaders and the federal government to justify the makeover, which includes wider truck lanes, state-of-the-art inspection technology and other features. “We have a concept design already created. Now we’re just hoping to get federal investment to make those things happen,” Grajeda said.

The modernization could also include a new hazardous materials designation, which only one of El Paso’s ports of entry has.

“Right now hazmat is limited to one port: Ysleta-Zaragoza. This would create a reliever route for this cargo that is essential to industry and that would also open up additional investment,” Grajeda said. “Each year we hear from industry that there is interest in companies moving to this area, but they want to be located near a hazmat-ready port of entry. Because we don’t have (that), those companies are not investing here, so we’re losing them, we’re losing money.”

Trucks carrying blades for wind turbines sit on the side of the road in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Industry officials say an expansion of the port of entry is needed to accommodate an increasing number of trucks carrying heavy and oversized cargo to and from Mexico. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

Texas and other Great Plains states are currently cashing in on the growing wind-generated power market. The Energy Reliability Council of Texas says wind power accounted for nearly 16% of the electricity generated in the state in 2017. Many of the giant wind blades (100-feet plus in length) producing that power are manufactured in Juarez, Mexico, and shipped north and west through Santa Teresa, which has direct access to Interstate 10 via the Pete Domenici Highway.

But as demand for the wind blades grows and even bigger wind turbines are designed and ordered, the harder it’s becoming to get those parts across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Felipe Otero, logistics manager for TPI Composites Inc., a U.S.-based wind blade manufacturer with operations in Juarez, said the company’s truckers already must overcome the port’s shortcomings. This includes finding the right angle to come into the cargo lanes and avoiding hitting fences.

“As our product gets larger, so will the price tag on each blade, making each piece that crosses through the port of entry much more important for the region,” Otero said Monday during a meeting at the Border Authority.

He said TPI’s customers depend on timely delivery of the blades and added that any delays crossing the border affect operations, as the Juarez plant cannot store unlimited numbers of the gigantic wind-turbine components.

Grajeda said the state agency and industry leaders will continue to push for federal dollars for the expansion. “We have heard it’s moving up on the priority list at the federal level. … We’re also hearing on the Mexican side that their improvement plans were also included in their (government’s) priority list,” he said. “Hopefully, that continues to move forward.”

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-New Mexico, said she is aware of the economic impact derived from adequately staffing and investing in port-of-entry infrastructure.

“We hear of a private-public partnership that is going to allow investment in Santa Teresa hopefully next year,” she said.

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