Senator Calls for Border Infrastructure Improvements
May 14, 2001 12:00 PM
US border crossing points will find it increasingly difficult to keep pace with greater US-Mexico trade unless Congress invests in necessary infrastructure improvements along the Southwest border, said US Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). Domenici made the comments at the Border Trade Alliance International Conference meeting in early May.
"The Southwest Border region is one of the fastest growing in the country," he said. "Yet, it still remains one of the most undeveloped in the nation. The Southwest border region is growing at more than twice the national average and 40 percent faster than the United States's fastest growing states."
"Long backlogs at ports of entry along the southwest border create a substantial hardship on the people in the region, particularly considering that 86% of US-Mexico trade is transported by truck," he said. "Many ports of entry along the southwest border have unnecessary backlogs that are measured in the hours. This congestion exacerbates existing health and environmental problems for border residents. Further, such inefficient trade increases costs for everyone in the product chain.
The senator plans legislation that will direct the US Customs Service to update the Ports of Entry Infrastructure Assessment Study. Pursuant to the updated study, it provides $500 million to be spent over five years for the recommended improvements. The bill would establish a grant fund, similar to the Border Environment Infrastructure Fund through EPA. This new fund would be through the Department of Transportation and administered by the North American Development Bank, in accordance with its expanded mandate. This fund would provide matching money to reduce negative environmental impacts associated with cross-border transportation.
"Our current system of processing goods at ports is impractical, overly burdensome, and is a substantial factor in traffic backlogs," he said. "In order to innovate more efficient processing systems, this legislation designates that a port-of-entry will serve as a site to demonstrate port technologies."
In April, Domenici formally requested FY2002 appropriations through the US Customs Service for improvements needed at both the Santa Teresa and Columbus ports of entry in New Mexico. For the Santa Teresa port, Domenici is seeking a total of $3.2 million, including:
$2.25 million for construction of an additional 25-truck capacity commercial inspection dock and related cargo office space; and
$974,000 for electronic inspection equipment upgrades which are greatly needed to adequately process commercial traffic, including $769,000 for a second portable Vehicle and Cargo Container Inspection System (VACIS); and $205,000 for a pallet x-ray inspection system.
Domenici also requested $6.8 million for the Columbus border crossing, including:
$2.25 million to construct an additional 16-truck capacity commercial inspection dock and related cargo office space. There are now only four docks available to process commercial traffic, which increased by nearly 100 percent between 1997 and 1998, and another 23 percent in 1999.
$600,000 to add primary and secondary inspection lanes.
$1.5 million for construction of additional main building office space for USDA, INS and common areas, and additional parking spaces for employees.
$375,000 to construct two detention cells; and
$2.1 million for security improvements and inspection equipment.