Port bottlenecks open, but slowly in Nogales

11/16/2012 03:24:00 PM
Mike Hornick

The Mariposa Land Port of Entry starts the winter deal with twice as many commercial lanes — eight — as it had available last year. But will that mean more speed or bigger volume for Nogales, Ariz., shippers?

Tricar Sales is one company that thinks so. While it’s common to see loading start at 10 or 10:30 a.m., Tricar plans to open earlier this season.

“We toyed with 8 a.m. but felt like 9 was the hour to try,” said Rod Sbragia, director of sales and marketing. “As the new port nears completion, we’ll start seeing product arrive here not only sooner in the day, but there will be fewer situations where trucks are held up at the border. As the port becomes more efficient, they’ll process trucks more quickly.”

In the past perhaps 25% of trucks were delayed at the border, said Sbragia, who anticipates smoother flow this winter.

The roadblock, so to speak, to further improvements lies on Mariposa Road — also known as State Route 189 — which links the port to I-19. Stoplights there often snarl traffic.

“The state of Arizona is starting to wake up and realize that in order to fully take advantage of the capacity of this port, they need to move the trucks through quicker,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

Typical capacity has been around 1,600 to 1,800 trucks daily. Road improvements could increase that dramatically.

“When this thing is fully reconfigured, capacity will be between 4,000 and 5,000 truckloads a day,” Jungmeyer said. “It will literally double trade. I don’t expect twice as much produce to come through, but there is the ability for a lot more produce — and other commercial goods — to cross.”

A few proposals for breaking the bottleneck have been floated. The ideal scenario, from an importer’s viewpoint, would be construction of a connector route — perhaps even a toll road — that would bypass Mariposa Road and take trucks directly to I-19 without stoplights.

A simpler option might be to have trucks exit onto a flyover, a partial loop taking them back to the highway.

“Getting that fixed is a major priority,” Jungmeyer said.

The other bottleneck is customs. The port’s eight commercial lanes are not always staffed.

“We’re anxiously awaiting the arrival of more customs officers,” he said.

The port, built in the 1970s to handle 400 trucks daily, has been under expansion since late 2009, its cost pegged at $220 million — mostly in federal stimulus money. Completion was estimated at 2014.



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