by James C. Moore
The vision is quite fantastic. Goods are shipped across the Pacific from the Australasia basin to the Mexican deepwater port of Topolabambo and are loaded onto trucks and trains. The overland route moves up from sea level to the Sierra Madre Occidental ranges through great tunnels and into the majestic Copper Canyon, a gorge as beautiful and daunting at Arizona’s Grand Canyon.
As the route comes down out of the mountains at Chihuahua City, Mexico, the pavement and the train tracks would make a line toward Ojinaga and Presidio and the international border crossing of the Rio Grande. Processed freight can then be shipped on the Texas Pacific Railway or remain on northbound trucks up U.S. Highway 67, which traverses five states, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa, and connects with twenty different interstate highways.
The dream is called La Entrada al Pacifico. And West Texans are ready for work to begin on route improvements for road and rail; especially the lonely stretch of 67 from Marfa to Presidio.
“While this corridor is not as high traffic as others around the state, the suggested improvements are relatively small projects aimed at safety and mobility improvements,” wrote James Beauchamp of the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance (MOTRAN) to the Texas Transportation Commission. “We believe they would have a significant impact for citizens and businesses.”
The larger goal for Presidio and Ojinaga is increased commerce. The Port of Entry on the border has historically lost trade to El Paso, and traffic logjams there have prompted the development of the Santa Teresa crossing twenty miles west, which has the city of Presido fearing freight and tourists, will be forced even further away from their crossing.
That has also caused Presidio to begin work on an improved highway bridge.
“For the city of Presidio it’s an economic advantage,” Marco Baeza, City Administrator for Presidio told KWES-TV. “Currently our commercial traffic, we have problems with it, we have concerns with it.”
Presidio is beginning to work on a new bridge that will carry only southbound traffic into Mexico. City officials believe that one of the reasons they are losing tourists to El Paso and Santa Teresa is that the current bridge accommodates two-way traffic and is too slow. Back ups during busy periods have been miles long. Completion of the new southbound span, sometime in the next two years, will turn the present two-way bridge into a northbound only two-lane road.
It is a minor, but important step towards realizing the dream of the great La Entrada route. The other challenges are more formidable, like engineering road and rail routes through the Mexican mountains and Copper Canyon.
“Upgrading that corridor to take out some of the grades is a very expensive proposition,” said Rafael Aldrete, senior research scientist at Texas A&M University’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research in El Paso told Bond Buyer online magazine. “The tunnels do not allow for double-stacking of rail cars, and on some of those sharp curves, they would not be able to pass.”
But there are projects being developed that work toward the grander route. The Presidio-Ojinaga rail bridge, which was destroyed by fire in 2008, is finally about to be rebuilt. The Texas Department of Transportation and Mexico share ownership of the railroad crossing and lease it to the Texas Pacifico Railroad, which has freight connections up through West Texas and into Fort Worth. Construction on the new version of the bridge will begin early in 2017.
Presidio, meanwhile, continues to push TxDOT to improve U.S. 67. More traffic is expected along the route south of Marfa to the border with the construction of the Trans Pecos Pipeline, a possible 5800 more agricultural shipments with a new inspector, and a construction project by Solitaire Homes. Presidio is working with MOTRAN to get 8-foot shoulders on the road, widened lanes at problematic alignments, and improved overpasses that presently force truck traffic to take alternative routes.
La Entrada can clearly never be a realized dream without numerous local improvements.
“The La Entrada Corridor has been designated as a Congressional High Priority Corridor and is included on the Texas Freight Network,” said Mark Cross, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation told Bond Buyer. “TxDOT is continuing to focus our efforts on corridor development to align with needs related to growth in international trade and energy sector activities.”
But West Texas has significant competition for traffic with South Texas. Mexico has completed a trans-continental Mazatlan Highway to Brownsville and goods shipped overseas as well as produce from the rich Conchos River Valley is increasingly headed toward the lower Rio Grande Valley border entry points. Routes are faster and closer to Midwest and Northeastern U.S. markets. This truck traffic has caused TxDOT to designate $600 million for improvements to the I-69 corridor from Brownsville to Corpus Christi and Houston.
And then there is the completion of the Panama Canal’s expansion to allow the passage of larger freighters. A $5.25 billion project enables the transit of massive container ships and has doubled the capacity of the canal.
“With the Panama Canal expansion, we’re looking to see what happens,” Rafael Aldrete said. “The jury’s still out on whether these highways that connect to Mazatlan can compete.”
There is no shortage, however, of freight, and TxDOT reports the state has 13 truck border crossings to Mexico. Those crossings accommodated the transport of $246 billion of goods in 2014 between Mexico and Texas. Eighty-three percent of that freight was moved by truck and the remainder crossed by rail.
“This amounts to more than 3.7 million inbound trucks and 430,000 inbound rail containers,” according to the Freight Mobility Report. “These numbers only reflect movements from Mexico into Texas since many ports-of-entry do not report outbound traffic. More than half the total goods crossing at a Texas-Mexico border had an origin or destination in another state.”
There appears to be enough business and traffic to continue to support La Frontera, and La Junta de los Rios at Presidio and Ojinaga, which sit almost in the geographic center of this massive transportation and economic activity. The two border towns appear to be readying for a future of improving prosperity.
La Entrada al Pacifico is a dream that will not die.