EDITORIAL: TxDOT announces focus on border infrastructure

Even before the Rio Grande Valley’s three transportation authorities agreed to merge into one regional body, things were looking up for Valley infrastructure.

The Texas Department of Transportation recently launched a 25-year master plan to improve trade and travel between Texas and Mexico.

TxDOT held its first meeting last month with what it calls the Rio Grande Valley-Tamaulipas steering committee, one of three bi-national groups with which the agency will work to identify, diagnose and correct transportation issues along the border. The other two groups are in the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo and El Paso-Ciudad Juarez areas.

Each group will meet with the agency several times a year, state officials said.

All 28 international ports of entry will be studied, as well as the roadways that lead both north and south from each.

“We want to make this an effort that looks at corridors, using ports of entry as a link,” TxDOT’s Tim Juarez, TxDOT’s international trade and border coordinator and Border Transportation Master Plan project manager, said at the inaugural meeting last month in Pharr.

The need to continually assess and improve our cross-border trade routes can’t be overstated. Some $671 billion in goods crossed through U.S.Mexico ports last year, and it is hoped that amount will increase with ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

In addition to local officials, the group will also work with federal agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. General Services Administration and their Mexican counterparts.

“If there’s a federal or state policy that helps people or goods move across the border, we want to study it to make sure it’s being equally applied at all 28 ports of entry,” Juarez said.

This “holistic view of the border,” as the initiative has been called, is the kind of approach that inspired Valley officials to unite their three metropolitan planning organizations into one. While one of the primary incentives for that merger was the promise of greater access to federal transportation funding, it should further maximize the use of that funding by prioritizing projects, reducing duplication and streamlining the administration of resources.

Likewise, the BTMP seeks to review all ports, see what works and what doesn’t, and standardize operations all across the border. This not only will improve those operations, but help international freight companies know what to expect at every crossing and prepare accordingly with regard to paperwork, adherence to regulations and preparation for inspections and other border crossing procedures.

A more coordinated approach to evaluating the needs along our trade corridors also will help border lawmakers prepare legislation that addresses the issues that these transportation groups identify, and improve the chances such legislation will succeed.

Greater coordination with regard to regional and border planning inspires confidence that officials at all levels will address the infrastructure needs that help support our border economy.