There is a major shortcut taking shape across Mexico’s mountainous interior, and greenhouse vegetable shippers say it should do much to improve shipping times and lower costs.

“That will disperse a significant amount of the volumes coming out of western Mexico and make it available to the East Coast,” said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC.

“Freight costs have gone up significantly and have become prohibitively expensive in the summer months. We’ve seen freight costs of $8,000 a truck coming from the West. We can’t compete with product grown or being brought into the Nogales port. We basically quit shipping product eastbound.”

A new four-lane highway is connecting Mazatlan on the Pacific coast to Durango, about 193 miles away, significantly reducing what has been a five-hour travel time, according to the Mexican government.

Shippers traditionally have had to drive around the mountains. When the $1.2 billion superhighway is done, travelers will drive through the mountains.

The centerpiece of the project is the nearly 1-mile-long Puente Baluarte Bicentenario Bridge — the biggest cable-stayed bridge ever built in Latin America, with a roadway 1,280 feet above River Baluarte.

The bridge joins the states of Durango and Sinaloa, and, according to the government, removes the need for drivers to negotiate a hazardous stretch of road known as the “Devil’s Backbone.”

For vegetable shippers, it changes the dynamic of sending product east, DeSchouwer said.

“A lot of things are changing,” he said.

“McAllen (Texas) is going to be a more important port. There’s a lack of storage facilities now, but that will change.”

The improved road system will facilitate shipping for Ciruli Bros. in Rio Rico, Ariz., said Chuck Ciruli, partner with the grower-shipper, which operates greenhouses in Mexico.

“A lot of the greenhouses, we ship a tremendous amount,” he said.

“We have a facility in Donna, Texas. We’ve been shipping to Texas for 14 years now, and we’re seeing that be more and more viable, and as there’s more shade houses and better roads, it’s keeps going to grow more months of the year with more product lines for different months. We see that as a part of future growth.”

Alberto Maldonado, general manager of Apache Produce in Nogales, Ariz., said the new roads will be helpful.

“The highway will cut a lot of time,” he said. “Instead of two days, it will be only one day.”

Mike Aiton, marketing director for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., agreed.

“Anything that cuts down shipping time is a good idea,” he said.

“The same with the new facility at the (Nogales) border, which will process trucks faster and get them into the country quicker.”

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said improved roads give shippers in west Mexico more options.

More direct routes will accelerate the trend for Mexico greenhouse growers to look east for sales, said Jaime Garza, owner of Pharr, Texas-based Bebo Distributing Inc.

“We’re seeing more and more people from the West Coast look to come to this area, because it’s easier to come across the country than go to Nogales and go to the East Coast,” he said.

“We’re seeing more people shipping here to go east.”