Dirt has been flying along the U.S.-Mexico border at Ambos Nogales since 2009 when renovations began at the 39-year-old Mariposa Land Port of Entry - the fourth busiest land port of entry in the U.S. which handles more than half the fresh Mexican produce consumed in America.
Billed as “The Port of the Future,” the future is now following an October 15 ribbon cutting on the most modern, most efficient, state-of-the-art port on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Nogales is a prime location for just-in-time delivery for Mexico’s West Coast supply chain - the only place where two interstate highways (I-10 and I-19) meet the ever-growing commerce on Mexico’s Highway 15.
The port’s commercial lanes have been expanded to handle 4,000 trucks per day. New x-ray technology allows for rapid truck scanning. There are more than 50 commercial inspection dock spaces, plus numerous other improvements for passenger vehicles and pedestrians.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 13 acres adjacent to the port were acquired to accommodate the expansion before the real demolition and new construction was underway.
In just one of the many examples of project cooperation, fourth-generation cattle rancher Dave Parker owned hillside property he could not afford to level for commercial development. The federal government needed dirt to fill ditches and gullies for the port expansion.
So the Greater Nogales-Santa Cruz County Port Authority negotiated a trade where the feds leveled the hill at no cost to the owner and carted away the needed fill dirt.
The Mariposa port has always been an important economic link between the two countries, but getting through the checkpoint was often time consuming.
“More than a decade ago, we all were saying our port was outdated with limited infrastructure and a footprint far too small,” said Allison Moore of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
“When traffic flowed smoothly, all went well, but if one little thing misfired, the ripple effect of lengthy wait times kicked in.”
Speaking on behalf of her 100-member trade group dealing with the growing, harvesting, importation, and distribution of Mexican produce, Moore said, “Decision-makers heard what we said and it didn’t slow us down even during the construction phase.”
Four-billion pounds of produce
“They kept the doors open and the commercial lanes humming to keep things flowing and that’s important because we have four billion pounds of produce that passes here annually. In tomatoes alone, if you put a year’s worth of crossings end-to-end, you’d circle the earth nine times in tomatoes. We need to move product rapidly.”
Already one of the largest and busiest land ports in America - the main entry point for an estimated 60 percent of all winter produce consumed America - the doubling of cargo lanes (completed in Phase I, April 2014) is expected to increase capacity to more than the current per-day truck volume.
The Arizona-Mexico Commission reports that in terms of value, imports, and exports through this port the total values now exceed $20 billion.
The news gets even better when you ask Bruce Bracker, chairman of the Greater Nogales-Santa Cruz County Port Authority.
“The value of trade goods continues to increase and over the last three or four years has risen to nearly $35 billion,” Bracker said.
Speed up truck traffic
All the renovations in the $250 million, eight-year-long design and construction project lead to one crucial factor - speed in processing with minimal delay at a port that already boasts the shortest wait times along the international border.
Not a bad record when you consider that annual northbound and southbound traffic combined represents over half a million trucks, close to two million cars, and another million pedestrians.
Those numbers make this entryway a veritable beehive of activity.
“Our ports of entry are the cornerstone of Arizona’s economy,” said Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva. “Too often, the borderlands are characterized in the form of a wall while the reality is this region is a window that allows us to enjoy foods and products from Mexico and beyond.”
“Expanding and streamlining the flow of goods through that window,” the congressman said, “is vital for our region and state to remain competitive in the global economy. The Mariposa Land Port of Entry represents the future of commerce along our southern border.”
While the atmosphere at the dedication atmosphere was rife across the board with ‘Atta boys’, it also offered politicians and bureaucrats a podium from which to pontificate.
Arizona U.S. Senator Jeff Flake called the renovated port, “Not just Arizona’s gateway to Mexico, but a place where America meets the world.”
America’s Ambassador to Mexico, Anthony Wayne told the audience, “Already billions of dollars in products and 60 percent of all winter produce consumed annually in the U.S. transits (through) the Mariposa Port - a million dollars a minute in trade value. Looking ahead to the next 20 years, this renovated port will enhance the flow even further.”
Ruth Cox, Regional Administrator for the General Services Administration, Pacific Rim Region, welcomed the pride-filled crowd of some 300 attendees representing Arizona and Sonora offering kudos to all who played a part in the dream becoming a reality.
Cox said, “We’ve made great strides in modernizing our nation’s federal infrastructure (and) this expansion-modernization project will bring an overall economic impact to the area.”
The economic aspect was a consistent theme with Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and his Nogales counterpart Mayor Arturo Garino.
Rothschild told Western Farm Press, “This is a milestone that southern Arizona has been waiting a long time for. It’s a step forward in making Tucson economically vibrant, an opportunity to let the world know you can move trade quickly through this corridor to get to Tucson and points West…. I can image a doubling of trade traffic within a 3-4 year period.”
Back in the day
Mayor Garino remembers when the original port was built in 1973.
“We expected 300 trucks a day to come through and now that number is 4,000 with even larger numbers still to come. This port is the jewel of the Southwestern border.”
GSA Public Affairs Officer Traci Madison added, “The port’s footprint expanded by 216,000 square feet while inspection capacity increased in quantum fashion. The original number of commercial inspection lanes doubled along with more than 50 secondary commercial inspection bays.”
William Brooks, U.S. Customs and Border Protection field operations director, planted a thought for the future.
“This began with a vision years ago, a vision that grew into partnerships that had the tenacity to stay the course to completion.” Brooks said. “This port will make positive economic impacts for years to come - and some day we may wonder why we didn’t build it even larger.”