BROWNSVILLE, Texas – There was an in-depth conversation about cross border trade at a recent Texas House Committee on Transportation hearing held in Brownsville.
The chairman of the committee, state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg, interrupted the presentation of Caroline Mays a number of times.
Mays is director of planning and modal programs for the Texas Department of Transportation.
Canales was not criticizing Mays or disputing her report. Rather, he wanted to underline and amplify the points she was making.
Mays said cross border trade between Texas and Mexico is vital for the economy. She said TxDOT has calculated the cost of upgrading infrastructure at land ports of entry to make them more efficient. However, she said there is nowhere near enough money budgeted to make the upgrades. And, Mays said, the inefficiency of land ports of entry leads to delays in trucks crossing the bridges, which in turn costs the Texas economy greatly.
Editor’s Note: At the conclusion of the hearing, the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service secured a video interview with Caroline Mays.
More funding needed for Texas-Mexico land ports of entry
Here are selected passages from Caroline Mays’ testimony and her interactions with Chairman Canales.
“On slide 10 I will talk a little bit about cross border trade. Texas-Mexico border trade is vital to the state’s economy and supply chains. Texas-Mexico trade has increased by 267% from $58 billion in 1994 – this was when NAFTA was first established – to $231 billion in 2021. Trucks continue to be the dominant mode for moving trade across the Texas-Mexico border but also throughout the state as I mentioned earlier. Specifically to the border, annual imports from Mexico trade by trucks have doubled in tonnage from 20 million in just 2006 to 14 million in 2021,” Mays said.
“Truck crossing also doubled between 1996 and 2019 from 2.1 million to 4.6 million. This is just covering northbound crossings or trucks through all of our 28 border crossings. But this number is projected to up to almost more than double to 12.4 million trucks crossing our borders by 2050.”
Canales wanted to make sure he heard that correctly.
“Let me stop you,” Canales said. “There’s a lot of numbers but this is exactly what I was talking to the TxDOT members about before you (testified). The fact is that we can’t efficiently get trucks across the border because of lack of infrastructure. That means they’ve got to wait and it costs us $68.3 million in productivity losses. But gross domestic product losses cost $2.3 billion.”
Mays responded: “That’s correct.”
Canales then stated: “We lost $2.3 billion in gross domestic product last year because we don’t have the right infrastructure?”
Mays: “That’s correct. Because of the delays.”
Canales: “And so the delays cost $5,000 a minute, right now?”
Canales: “But that’s based on 2019 numbers?”
Canales: “But those numbers have increased obviously. So (now) that’s a bigger number?”
Canales: “So, by us not investing in the infrastructure, multibillion dollar economic engines, Texas is literally shooting itself not in one foot but in both feet?”
Mays: “Yes, Chairman and as you can see here, if nothing is done the GDP losses alone will increase to $116 billion by 2050.”
Canales: “So, by 2050 If we don’t do anything, we’re going to be losing $116 billion from both countries. Because we don’t have the proper infrastructure.”
Mays: “That’s correct.”
Mays then continued with her presentation, discussing the Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan. She said this plan was developed by TxDOT in collaboration with binational public and private sector stakeholders.
“The plan identified over 600 projects with an estimated cost of $34.3 billion and this again includes both projects in Texas and Mexico. What I want to note here is that out of the 600 projects, 449 of those projects remain unfunded or partially funded with an estimated gap of $29.8 billion.”
State Rep. Lina Ortega of El Paso then interrupted Mays.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt,” Ortega said. “I think it is really important in terms of what you just pointed out that there is a pretty serious gap with regard to funding for these important projects. What would you recommend if anything in terms of what the state of Texas needs to do in order to start funding those projects that are so important, instead of losing all the money that was pointed out earlier?”
Mays responded: “I think, Representative Ortega, the plan laid out a very comprehensive strategy that identified short, medium and long term but also high, medium, and kind of low priority investment strategies. And really, I think the biggest challenge right now is that there’s no dedicated funding for the projects that were developed in the plan. Most of those projects are funded using traditional funding programs, as was stated earlier in the UTP (Unified Transportation Plan) but also the bridge owners, like you know, in Pharr or El Paso, or the city, they all provide funding for those projects. So right now there’s really no dedicated funding for all of his projects identified within this plan.”
Ortega replied: “What I’m hearing from you is that we need to start dedicated funding, especially if there is a separation of categories, with high, medium and low priority. To really start funding the high priority projects.”
Mays replied: “What I would say is not necessarily that we have to have dedicated funding, but prioritizing investments that are made in the border region is really, really important. For one, if Texas is going to stay competitive we need to address the infrastructure shortages throughout the border regions from here to Laredo and to El Paso and really the biggest challenge right now is lack of funding. As I’ve outlined here.”
Chairman Canales then asked how many trucks cross Texas land ports of entry. Mays said it is about 4.2 to 4.4 million a year.
Canales replied: “So this committee passed a bill for a study that was funded by the legislature for pavement consumption, and we’re about to get those results back. A fully loaded 18 wheeler commercial vehicle consumes pavement at roughly 10,000 times the rate of passenger vehicles. Now, if you’re talking about 4.5 million trucks that cross the border, in these concentrated areas, then there is a disproportionate usage and a disproportionate consumption of the pavement around these areas. Would you agree?”
Mays: “Yes, absolutely.”
Canales: “Okay. But there’s also a disproportionate contribution to the national and Texas economy by these areas. And so we don’t get extra funding for those roads, do we, not based on that?”
Mays: “No, not based on that and as I mentioned earlier, trucking in Texas be it on the border side, or statewide is a big economic generator for the state of Texas and the nation.”
Canales: “Okay. So my point is that perhaps the way we’re looking at funding needs to be revisited. And it needs to be looked at from saying these areas are an economic boon, one, but two, the usage and degradation and consumption of their pavement is astronomically larger, because of the very nature of how they’re creating that economic boon, which is trucks. Does that make sense?”
Mays: “Yes, absolutely. By using economic contributions as part of the seven priority investment strategies, I think is very, very important. And I think at TxDOT, when we look at projects now, we’re looking at the the economic impact of those projects.”
Canales replied that while TxDOT may prioritize projects based on economic impact, the Legislature does not, when it comes to funding.
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