After several delays, the Autopista Durango-Mazatlan, a 143-mile highway from the growing regions of west Mexico to Texas ports of entry, now is expected to open sometime during the first half of 2014.

“It’s open, but there are still sections of the road that are not 100% complete,” said

Jimmy Garza, director of operations for Bebo Distributing Inc., Pharr, Texas, and a Pharr city commissioner.

The route’s 1,280-foot-high Baluarte Bridge already has been completed. The structure is the highest bridge in North America and the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world, according to the website

Thanks to the bridge, there is no need for trucks to travel up and down the mountain, Garza said. “They can go through it.”

The highway between Durango and the coastal city of Mazatlan has no less than 61 tunnels and seven bridges that exceed 300 feet in height, the website says.

Already, almost two-thirds of the produce Texas sells to the rest of the country comes from Mexico, said John McClung, head of the Texas International Produce Association’s Border Issues Management Program.

That only will increase when the new road opens, enabling Mexican growers to easily move product from growing areas in west Mexico to the eastern part of the country in an efficient manner, he said.

“That has always been impossible because of the mountain ranges,” he said. “This new road system is going to flatten out that trip and make it something that is entirely feasible for 18-wheelers.”

The shortcut could allow Mexican shippers and U.S. importers to save $2,000 when they ship a load east of the Rockies through Texas rather than Arizona or California, he said.

“That has never been possible on a significant scale before.”

Besides importing Mexican product, shippers may bring in Asian products shipped to deep water ports in west Mexico.

This would allow importers to avoid Southern California’s Long Beach-Los Angeles harbor area, which is expensive and frustrating, McClung said.

“We’re seeing more and more product coming out of Asia and coming straight through Mexico and transshipping up into the U.S.,” he said.

Completion of the road could boost south Texas, which traditionally has been the second-busiest port of entry for produce, behind Nogales, Ariz., into the No. 1 spot, said Carlos Zambito, marketing director for the McAllen Produce Terminal Market, McAllen, Texas.

In fact, the region already may have reached that point, he said.

“A lot of the Nogales companies are setting up a small shop here so they can (serve) the East Coast, using the highway and crossing through McAllen,” he said. “This place is really growing.”

McAllen has been visited by scouts from other areas for about a year, he added.

Another South Texas advantage is a new “overweight corridor” between the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge and area warehouses. For a fee of up to $80, drivers can travel the corridor even if their load exceeds the 80,000-pound weight limit. The limit in Mexico is 125,000 pounds.

In the past, the only option for overweight trucks was to unload some product in Mexico and arrange for other trucks to bring their product across.

“Now they will be able to go straight to the warehouse and do their transloading here,” Zambito said.

This is an advantage because, “The less amount of handling you do to produce, the better quality you have,” he said.

Dan Edmeier, vice president of sales and marketing for Kingdom Fresh Farms Inc., Donna, Texas, expects the highway to have an impact on how much product will come into south Texas and how fast it gets there.

“If it gets here faster, it will have more shelf life,” he said.

Blake Brandt of Brandt Produce Inc., Edinburg, Texas, said more supplies of any and all products coming through South Texas will be beneficial for everybody.

“There will be more buyers buying and more trucks to load,” he said.