A Dream Deferred: La Entrada al Pacifico

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.

Copper Canyon

Copper 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.

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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.

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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.

U.S. Highway 67 Route Map

U.S. Highway 67 Route Map

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocket Launch Set for Van Horn?

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin may be preparing for another test flight of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle, based on an airspace restriction published by the Federal Aviation Administration Jan. 21.

The temporary flight restriction notice covers a region of airspace that corresponds with Blue Origin’s test site north of Van Horn, Texas. The restriction, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Jan. 22 and 23, is for “space flight operations,” according to FAA, although the notice does not provide any additional information about the nature of the operations.

Blue Origin has not confirmed plans for any test flights, keeping with the company’s practice of not announcing tests until after they take place. However, the FAA has issued similar flight restrictions prior to earlier New Shepard flights, including one shortly before the vehicle’s last test flight Nov. 23.

On that November flight, New Shepard’s crew capsule flew to an altitude of 100.5 kilometers before parachuting to a safe landing. The vehicle’s propulsion module made a powered vertical landing using its BE-3 engine, which the company hailed as a milestone in their efforts to develop reusable vehicles.

Read More at Space News

Push for Transportation Improvements from Odessa to Presidio

Local transportation officials argued that infrastructure needs did not diminish with the plummet in oilfield activity during the annual meeting of the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance on Thursday.

“The transportation needs are as great as ever,” said Trey Crutcher, MOTRAN’s chairman. “There are a lot of people in these communities, staying here.”

MOTRAN is funded by the cities of Odessa and Midland to push for regional transportation improvements, which also includes efforts like expanding the border crossing and international bridge in Presidio and the South Orient Rail bridge in hopes of shoring up a trade corridor with Mexico.

After years of strain on local roadways, 2015 saw a series of major infrastructure developments for the Odessa and Midland region.

The Texas Department of Transportation’s Odessa District, for example, awarded some $190 million toward contracts for regional roadway improvements — nearly four times what the district lets in a typical year. Among those projects, funded after the passage of Proposition 1, were major investments in State Highways 349 and 158.

“I don’t know that we will ever catch up to the growth of Midland and Odessa,” said Mike McAnally, district engineer for the TxDOT’s Odessa District. He said the district is trying to recover from the boom.

This year, MOTRAN successfully fought for an updated traffic study by TxDOT and the local planning organization, MOTOR MPO, that MOTRAN President James Beauchamp said should help bring in up to $6.5 million for the MPO and better guide infrastructure development.

Read More at Odessa American

A Vision of Commerce and Cross-Border Business

Ticketed airline passengers crossing between San Diego and Tijuana will soon have a new option. A 390-foot pedestrian bridge linking Tijuana’s A.L. Rodríguez International Airport directly to Otay Mesa is set to launch operations on Dec. 9.

Users of the privately operated port of entry, called the Cross Border Xpress, will be charged for each crossing. Enrique Valle, chief executive officer of Otay Tijuana Ventures, builder and operator of $120 million facility, said Friday that the toll will be $15 for those who purchase tickets ahead of time on the facility’s website — and $18 for those who pay on location.

The only port of entry on the U.S. border that connects directly to an airport in Mexico, the Cross Border Xpress also will be the first on the California border where users will be charged a toll. Only ticketed airline passengers will be able to use the facility.

The bridge will offer these travelers a faster way to cross the border, avoiding long lines at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry. It connects the Tijuana airport with a facility on the U.S. side that includes an area for U.S. customs and immigration processing, but also airline ticket counters, currency exchange facilities, a duty-free area, and a restaurant.

 

Read More at San Diego Tribune

Challenges Remain for La Entrada Trade Corridor

Since 1993, the La Entrada al Pacifico trade corridor has been discussed as one of the ways that the local economies of Midland and Odessa could diversify away from oil and gas production. But while much work has been completed on the Mexican side of the border, the American side has been limping along with small sections of improvements.

The corridor, which is about 850 miles long, begins in the coastal town of Topolobampo, Mexico, and works its way through Mexico and into Texas at the Presidio border and then moves through the Permian Basin and toward Lubbock.

The La Entrada concept was supposed to encourage international trade between the two countries and to international markets beyond. The route was initially conceived from a proposed expansion of Interstate 27 south of Lubbock, which was expected to grow south toward Interstates 20 and 10, according to literature from the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance (MOTRAN).

But while the Mexican government is estimated to have spent over $400 million on its portion of the trade corridor, MOTRAN President James Beauchamp said the amount on the American side is a fraction of the Mexican’s contribution.

La Entrada, he said, can create efficiencies for those looking to transport items between the two countries.

Read More at Midland Reporter Telegram

Another Leg of La Entrada al Pacifico

La Entrada al Pacifico’s goals have changed some since its 1997 inception with the 1,200-mile trade corridor now posing the lucrative prospect of natural gas exports.

Congress has not yet approved the sale of American natural gas from the wellhead to foreign buyers, but the compressed form of it might be exported as a refined product when a pipeline under construction from the border city of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, to the western Mexico seaport of Topolobampo is completed, says Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance President James Beauchamp.

Beauchamp added that the right of Permian Basin producers to export compressed natural gas might end up being contested in court, but he believes they would prevail.

He said the Mexican government has spent the equivalent of $64 million dredging Topolobampo from a depth of 35 to 42 feet and is loading ships from China and other countries with bulk shipments of grain, corn and other agricultural products, mostly from the heavily agricultural state of Sinaloa.

In 2012, Beauchamp said, a total of 570,671 vehicles, including 11,286 18-wheeler trucks, headed north from the border at Ojinaga-Presidio, where the bridge needs to be widened and where Mexican trucks usually off-load to American trucks. “From a trade and commerce standpoint, most of it is always going to be about Chihuahua and Texas,” he said.

Read More at Odessa American

South Orient Railroad to Roll Again

The long-dormant South Orient Railroad through Alpine will start service soon from San Angelo to Presidio and through Alpine, Mayor Avinash Rangra said in his opening remarks at the Alpine city council meeting Tuesday.

Rangra learned about the plan at a meeting he attended this month in San Angelo, he said.

The train would carry sand and other products, and could possibly be used to carry pipe for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline being planned from the Waha Hub near Coyanosa to near Presidio to meet with a Mexican line that would carry natural gas into the interior of Mexico.

The council had a public hearing Tuesday on the $11.58 million budget for 2014-15 and the proposed tax rate of 53.85 cents per $100 valuation, unchanged from last year.

No one spoke at the hearing on the tax rate but two citizens spoke on the budget and another complained about residents being asked to trim weeds on property adjacent to their homes.

Joseph Goldman asked if the budget were the same thing as the five-year plan. City Manager Erik Zimmer said they are not the same. The five-year plan lays out expected capital needs for the next five years while the budget enumerates expenses anticipated in the coming year, he said.

Goldman started to comment on the five-year plan but was told the hearing was on the budget and the comments were out of order.

Complete Story at Alpine Avalanche

Rebuilding Presidio Railroad Bridge Offers Economic Impact

Rebuilding the international railroad bridge over the Rio Grande connecting Presidio with Ojinaga, Chihuahua, could help bring back the 85-year cattle trade between the two nations.

It also could help build a healthy international trade on other products, a city official here said last week.

Presidio Special Projects Director Carlos Nieto said that security concerns “probably stopped inspections” of cattle moving from Mexico to the United States through Ojinaga.

The large Ojinaga U.S. inspection station was closed in 2012 but re-opened in June 2014.

“It was an alarming and concerning shift for two years from the Texas port of entry to the New Mexico port of entry” at Santa Teresa near El Paso, Nieto said. “Millions if not billions of dollars and hundreds of jobs in Texas went to New Mexico.”

Brad Newton, executive director of the Presidio Municipal Development District, said the railroad bridge may be reopened after it was damaged in a fire in 2009. Also in the works is another bridge that would allow cattle to be driven across on the hoof. And improvements are in the works for the highway and pedestrian bridge.

Nieto said cattle can lose body weight on trucks.

“That creates losses to people selling them if they are not in good condition,” he said. “We should just open a gate and let them walk across. That way the animals are not stressed and do not shrink as much.”

He said improved crossing facilities at Presidio-Ojinaga would provide “at least a competitive advantage” with Santa Teresa.

The south Presidio County Port of Entry is the only one between El Paso and Del Rio.

But much of the cattle trade had moved west to Santa Teresa where they can cross the border by rail because the Rio Grande curves north at El Paso and the border at Santa Teresa is a land crossing.

More Details at Alpine Avalanche

Paper Names River Road 170 One of America’s 10 Most Scenic Drives

Rivers make natural travel routes, and drivers can find great scenery by following their path through the countryside, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com. “There are famous majestic rivers, and these have become iconic destinations throughout the United States,” she says. Some routes are designated as scenic byways by states or the federal government, making it easy to stay on course. Banas shares favorite waterside roads with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Mad River Scenic Byway
Vermont
Perhaps there’s no more quintessential Vermont drive than this route, which runs by Green Mountain National Forest, passes covered bridges and weaves through small towns with steepled churches. “It’s more like a country road than a highway, so go slow and stop often to take pictures,” Banas says. madrivervalley.com

Great River Road National Scenic Byway
Minnesota through Louisiana
The nation’s longest scenic byway follows the Mississippi River through 10 states as it winds from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. “Some people might see this as a bucket-list item, and you don’t have to do the whole thing at once,” Banas says. “But if you make it the whole way, your reward is a party in New Orleans.” experiencemississippiriver.com

Hudson River Valley
New York
Starting at the Tappan Zee Bridge, just 25 miles from Manhattan, and heading north, this Empire State drive is rich in scenery and heritage. Travelers can visit places like Sleepy Hollow and West Point, and continue into upstate New York, passing landscapes that inspired an entire school of painting. “It’s American history from the 1700s on,” Banas says. iloveny.com

Historic Columbia River Highway
Oregon
This 75-mile highway following the Columbia River is a marvel of engineering with hairpin turns and perfectly situated overlooks. Drivers pass mountain scenery, waterfalls and rushing rapids. “It’s absolutely stunning. It’s the first planned scenic highway in the U.S. and a national historic landmark” Banas says. traveloregon.com

Colorado River Headwaters Byway
Colorado
Starting in Rocky Mountain National Park, this 80-mile highway follows the Colorado River from its source. It starts as a mountain stream near the old resort town of Grand Lake and picks up steam as it tumbles along. “You want to take it slowly so you can stop for hiking and whitewater rafting,” Banas says. “And I recommend relaxing in the natural mineral baths in the town of Hot Sulphur Springs. You can do it post-hike.” colorado.com

Seward Highway
Alaska
For 127 miles, this highway south of Anchorage, hugs an ocean inlet, passes through national forest, and skirts by creeks, lakes and rivers. “It’s epic. You’re passing through these snowcapped mountains. I saw bald eagles and waterscapes at every angle. The waters are so still and so clear, they are reflecting the mountain peaks.” travelalaska.com

El Camino del Rio (River Road)
Texas
This two lane road, technically Texas Farm-to-Market Route 170, twists, dips and dives through desert mountains and canyons along the Rio Grande in Far West Texas. The river runs from the towns of Lajitas to Presidio, near Big Bend Ranch State Park. One grade, called simply the “Big Hill” is one of the steepest highway slopes in the state. visitbigbend.com

New Port Authority Conducts First Meeting in Presidio

The Presidio International Port Authority (PIPA)’s inaugural meeting was neither lengthy nor remarkable; however, the newly established board mapped the schematics for the future of the bridge expansion project at the Presidio International Port of Entry.

With the exception of board member and Presidio County Commissioner Jim White, who was not present at the meeting, the newly appointed authority – otherwise comprised of county judge Cinderela Guevara, county commissioner Lorenzo Hernandez, city of Presidio Mayor John Ferguson and city council member Alcee Tavarez – met at the Presidio County Annex in Presidio.

The agenda was very brief, and the board spent most of the meeting receiving a presentation by project manager Jake Giesbrecht, who was also called upon to provide recommendations to the board for moving forward on the bridge expansion project.

According to Giesbrecht, S&B – the engineering and construction firm tasked with the project’s design – has submitted its environmental assessment to the Texas Department of Transportation. This is one of a series of critical steps toward acquiring the presidential permit required for the project.

Now, Giesbrecht said, TxDOT has up to three months to review the environmental impact assessment, at which point the department can choose to accept, reject or make modifications to the document.

Once TxDOT accepts the assessment, it will then pass it forward to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which also has to approve it. Only after receiving FHWA approval can the board finally submit its presidential permit application, which should include not only the environmental assessment, but also a preliminary financial plan and schematics for the design of the project.

Read More at Big Bend Sentinel