West Mexico shippers have been eyeing the Rio Grande Valley for the freight advantage to the eastern U.S. for some time.
But there’s one big problem with that strategy: the treacherous six-hour mountain pass through The Devil’s Backbone.
The Mexican government is nearly finished with the solution: the Autopista Durango-Mazatlan, a 143-mile highway that shippers expect will cut the time from the major growing regions in western Mexico to ports of entry in Texas.
The latest projections say the highway will be finished by the end of 2012.
Over the past several years, Rio Grande’s infrastructure has been gearing up for increased volumes of fruits and vegetables crossing in from Mexico, said Jimmy Garza, director of operations for Bebo Distributing Co. Inc., Pharr, Texas.
Garza also is a commissioner for the city of Pharr.
“We’ve known about this highway project for a while,” Garza said.
“From the city’s point of view, we’ve been preparing with infrastructure.”
That includes a proposed new climate controlled inspection facility at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, expected by this spring.
Shippers pulling from Western Mexico could see another day taken off of transit time once the new highway is completed, said Curtis DeBerry, president of Boerne, Texas-based Progreso Produce Ltd.
“We’re hoping it will give us another full day,” DeBerry said.
“We’re also anticipating it could save us another $300 to $400 — maybe even more — in freight.”
DeBerry said right now trucks have to travel south from the western growing regions to make the trek back up northeast to the Rio Grande Valley.
That will mean fresher product and longer shelf life for retailers and foodservice, Garza said.
“That helps everyone, from grower to consumer,” he said.
The Rio Grande Valley already is booming, even before the highway opens, said Carlos Zambito, marketing director of the McAllen-based McAllen Produce Terminal Market, run by Abasto Corp.
“It’s already happening,” Zambito said.
“We’re getting a lot of companies from Nogales here. They’re not going to leave Nogales permanently, obviously, but they’re putting in offices to attack the East Coast.”
The new highway also makes it more convenient for shippers from Nogales, Ariz., and other western ports of entry to put in satellite offices.
Jerry Wagner, president of Nogales-based Farmers Best International LLC, said his company has been shipping through a McAllen facility for years.
“This will speed up delivery time from shed to border and lower fuel costs for us to get to our product to the valley,” Wagner said.
Nogales shippers aren’t the only ones getting in on the expansion.
Glennvile, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC opened its own distribution center in Donna, Texas, Bland Distribution Services, back in late 2007.
The company uses the facility for its Texas and Mexico onion deals, but also built on cold storage to serve as an in-and-out for other shippers.
Nick Sanchez, general manager of Bland Distribution Services, said business is definitely picking up for the company’s cold storage services.
“We’re giving a lot of tours,” he said.
“We’ve been contacted by a number of shippers from Nogales. A lot of people are exploring now and waiting for the freeway to open.”