The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas is working with U.S. and Mexican customs officials to extend hours at the Mariposa Land Port of Entry.

“We’re still in the process of negotiating that, but it’s pretty favorable to happening,” Lance Jungmeyer, FPAA president, said in late October.

“It would add at least a half hour in the morning and at least an hour or two at the end of the day. Produce tends to cross later in the day.”

If an agreement is reached, it’s likely to take effect in January. Jan. 15 is generally considered the start of peak season in Nogales, Ariz., although that seems to get pushed a little earlier each year.

Progress continues on various fronts at the port, which has been undergoing an expansion since late 2009.

“We’re hopeful that by January the redesigned port will go from four to eight commercial lanes,” Jungmeyer said.

The full makeover of the port won’t be complete until 2014, but federal authorities made the commitment to increase capacity meanwhile.

Jorge Quintero Jr., partner in Nogales, Ariz.-based Grower Alliance LLC, welcomes the new lanes but wonders if U.S. Customs and Border Protection will have sufficient manpower for the growing port as more phases of the project are completed.

“We’re dealing with perishables, so the quicker we can get product out of warehouses to the consumer, the better it will be,” Quintero said.

“Staffing is the big question. They have all the plans to make it better, but they must have the people too or else it will just get jumbled all up. (But) increasing the lanes open for crossing and getting employees who can deal with the customs paperwork quickly will definitely help the whole industry.”

“The (FPAA) is working diligently on asking the federal government to staff our port of entry,” said Brent Harrison, president of Al Harrison Co., Nogales.

“The problem is they don’t have the staffing for the expansion they’re planning. The refurbished port is going to be great, but it takes a while to train (the personnel).”

When finished, the facility will have 56 offloading inspection docks, the eight commercial lanes plus 12 lanes for passenger cars.

Funding for the project, expected to cost up to $220 million, will come largely from federal stimulus dollars. The port was built in the 1970s to handle about 400 trucks daily, but more than 1,400 pass through now during peak periods.

In a related development, Mariposa Road, which connects the port to I-19, in October underwent a repaving that shippers hoped would make for quicker, or at least smoother, trips to warehouses.

“For the future, the Department of Transportation is considering its options,” Jungmeyer said.

“They want to take advantage of the infrastructure at this new port and be sure the state of Arizona and its businesses can benefit in the best way possible.”

“One thing being considered is a connection spur,” he said.

“Instead of sending trucks through Mariposa Road, it would drop them on a connector road just north of the port of entry. They would be able to bypass some stoplights and city traffic. They’re just exploring that.”

“Another option is to take the existing Mariposa Road and do a divergent diamond interchange. It results in trucks having to make one less stop at a light, which is actually a pretty big deal,” he said.

“That’s also on the table. We’re confident the state of Arizona will come up with some transportation options to take care of the growth opportunity that the port presents.”