How traffic jams at the U.S.-Mexico border ripple through the economy | Commentary

You may not think very much about border transportation issues if you don’t live in El Paso or Laredo, Texas, or Nogales, Ariz., or Otay Mesa, Calif.

People who live in those cities know that the traffic along an increasingly active international border affects their lives daily. But what happens there also has profound effects for millions of people who live nowhere near U.S.-Mexico border.

Anyone living along that border is affected (often adversely) by the exponential trade growth that causes long wait times for vehicles to cross the border. But border-crossing issues can reach far beyond there. Like sound waves, inefficiency impacts can extend vast distances, sometimes echoing in unanticipated ways.

Those issues can influence the cost of a television sold in Amarillo. They can determine how quickly a computer can be assembled and made available for sale in Dallas. They can affect commutes on Interstate highways nationwide. And they dictate when fresh produce can be delivered and how much it will cost. Traffic delays at the border can even be the decision point for where companies — especially those dependent on just-in-time delivery, like automobile or high-end electronics manufacturing — choose to open facilities, affecting economic development and employment opportunities in that community and statewide.

But there’s also good news. We’ve made a lot of progress in recent years to better understand and measure the traffic delays all too common along the border. The El Paso-based Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute has developed and installed a system to accurately measure commercial truck wait times at border crossings in El Paso and Laredo. The success of that system led to it being installed at other crossings in New Mexico and Arizona.

And we’re going one step beyond simply measuring those delays: we are now working on ways to actually predict vehicle border-crossing wait times, accounting for changes in daily conditions that cause those crossing times to fluctuate.

Private-sector shippers and carriers have reliable short-term projections of crossing times that they can use to maximize border-crossing efficiencies. Similarly, those predictions will enable governmental agencies, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to manage and deploy staff more efficiently and better meet peak period demand to minimize border wait times. Ultimately, greater efficiencies for these agencies translate to a higher and better use of finite tax dollars. And shorter wait times for shippers translate, in many cases, to reduced prices for consumers.

Shorter wait times are good for our health, too. When trucks spend less time idling and more time moving down the road, they produce less pollution. Air quality issues affect the health of all people, especially children and seniors who are most vulnerable, and, as a society, we all bear the burden of growing health care costs.

It’s important to emphasize that while we’re working to make cross-border movement of goods faster and more efficient, we’re also working to ensure that no advancement comes at the expense of compromised security. That’s paramount at a time when terrorist threats are always present and all too real.

America’s economic success depends significantly on transportation, and transportation is heavily impacted by each U.S.-Mexico port of entry — critical links that create and sustain jobs and supply the affordable goods relied upon by businesses and families across Texas and the nation.

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