Borderlands: New US-Mexico border bridge eyed by trade officials; $38 million in narcotics seized over two days in Texas

Borderlands is a weekly rundown of developments in the world of United States-Mexico cross-border trucking and trade. This week: New US-Mexico border bridge eyed by trade officials; $38 million in narcotics seized over two days in Texas; Borderless Coverage is waiving all registration fees during coronavirus outbreak; P.A.M. Transportation ends plans to acquire Celadon’s assets in Mexico.

Addition of second international bridge in Pharr, Texas, eyed by trade officials

Officials in Texas announced plans to add a “twin” bridge next to the existing Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge along the United States-Mexico border.

The $35 million project is aimed at expediting and expanding trade with Mexico, Luis Bazán, bridge director for the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, told FreightWaves.

“The new bridge is something that we have been considering for a long time,” Bazán said. “The current bridge turned 25 years old in November 2019; it started with the original NAFTA agreement back in 1994.”

The Pharr–Reynosa International Bridge is located in South Texas, crossing the Rio Grande River and the United States-Mexico border. It connects the city of Pharr in Texas, with the city of Reynosa and Mexican Federal Highway 2, in Mexico.

The 3.2 mile Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge currently has four lanes, handling commercial and passenger vehicles.

An average of 2,600 northbound trucks crossed from Mexico every day in March, with another 2,400 trucks crossing southbound.

The proposed new bridge will have four lanes as well, which Bazán said would allow the amount of truck crossings to “quadruple” daily.

“The new bridge would allow us to increase our traffic – quadruple the amount of traffic,” Bazán said.

Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge totaled $36.68 billion in trade during 2019, with Mexico accounting for 96%, according to data compiled by WorldCity

Other trade partners included China, which accounted for 2.1% of trade with Pharr during 2019. South Korea and Japan accounted for 0.45% and 0.41%, respectively

The top commodities exported across the bridge include $2.76 billion in petroleum gases, $676.64 in motor vehicle parts, $655.56 million in TVs and computer monitors, and $407 million in computer chips.

Top imports from Mexico in 2019 included TVs and computer monitors ($2.7 billion); avocados and berries ($1.49 million); and motor vehicle parts ($1.6 billion).

Pharr is the leading bridge for the movement of fruits and vegetables in the nation, accounting for more than 60% of all the fresh produce coming from Mexico through Texas land ports of entry.

The Outbound Tender Volume Index (OTVI), published by FreightWaves and available on the SONAR market dashboard, measures volume out of key freight markets.

As of March 27, McAllen, Texas – which includes the Pharr-Reynosa market – saw a 10% increase in outbound load volume week-over-week.

Outbound Tender Volume Index in the McAllen, Texas, market area. SONAR: OTVI.MFE

The current bridge is already undergoing several projects, including opening two additional commercial entry lanes; expanding the dry dock by 14 spaces; opening a 15,000-square-foot cold inspection facility; and building a border safety inspection facility connector with two exit lanes. 

To get the new bridge project built, Bazán said he hoped the existing presidential permit for the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge would cover the new project. There is a 70-foot right-of-way allowed where the span is to be built. 

If the permit proposal is rejected, the city of Pharr will have to apply for a new presidential permit, which could take months, Bazán said. On the Mexican side, they are moving forward and want to start breaking ground in 2021. 

Bazán said the new bridge would allow Pharr to compete with Laredo and El Paso, and possibly surpass them.

Pharr is currently the third busiest land port in Texas, behind Port Laredo and Port of El Paso.

“It took us a while to get to third, but if we make the right investments, you never know, we could be there [first or second] in the next few years, maybe sooner rather than later,” Bazán said.

$38 million in narcotics seized over two days in Texas

Law enforcement found two tons of marijuana and 1,800 pounds of methamphetamine during two separate drug busts in Texas last week.

Both seizures occurred at international bridge crossings with the narcotics hidden inside produce shipments from Mexico.

The first incident occurred on March 22 when United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at the Pharr International Bridge cargo facility intercepted a commercial shipment of fresh bananas.

Officers discovered 4,616 pounds of alleged marijuana hidden inside banana boxes destined for the U.S. The alleged marijuana had a street value of $923,290, according to the CBP.

The second drug seizure occurred Wednesday when Laredo CBP officers assigned to the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge cargo facility inspected a commercial shipment of fresh tomatoes arriving from Mexico in a tractor-trailer.

The truck and shipment were inspected by officers, resulting in the discovery of 1,847 pounds of alleged methamphetamine concealed among the tomatoes. The alleged drugs have an estimated $37 million in street value.

CBP officials seized more than 600 packages of alleged methamphetamine in a shipment of tomatoes Wednesday. Image: CCBP

“This record-breaking drug bust was an exceptional operation that highlights CBP’s commitment in confronting the drug abuse epidemic,” Gregory Alvarez, port director for the Laredo Port of Entry, said in a release

Both cases have been turned over to the Department of Homeland Security for further investigation.

Borderless Coverage is waiving all registration fees during coronavirus outbreak

Borderless Coverage announced March 23 it is waiving all registration fees for all commodities associated with obtaining cargo insurance to help customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Vickers, CEO of Borderless Coverage, said his company will be “waiving all registration fees associated with obtaining All-Risk Cross-Border Cargo Insurance for all commodities until the pandemic is considered controlled by the U.S. government.”

“This program will insure cargo for its full value against anything including theft and hijackings at the border and in Mexico, so cargo owners and end users of crucial supplies can focus on what they do best,” Vickers said.

Borderless Coverage was founded by Vickers in August 2017. The Cleveland, Ohio-based company enables organizations to conduct “safe and profitable business across the U.S.-Mexico border,” Vickers said.

“Mexico provides highly valuable supplies and resources to the U.S. These supplies are crucial to win the war against COVID-19,” Vickers said.

P.A.M. Transportation ends plans to acquire Celadon’s assets in Mexico

P.A.M. Transportation Services has ended its negotiations to acquire Mexican carrier Jaguar Transportation for $7 million.

PAM had been seeking to buy Jaguar, bankrupt Celadon Group’s Mexican carrier, since February 21, according to court filings.

The $7 million deal would have included trucks, as well as Jaguar Transportation’s facilities in Mexico.

The stalled negotiations were caused partly by recent coronavirus-related auto plant closures across North America. P.A.M. also laid off 75 employees, mostly non-drivers, according to company officials.

At the end of January, P.A.M. Transportation acquired Celadon Group’s 53-acre Laredo, Texas, terminal for $19.8 million.

P.A.M. Transportation already owns a cross-dock facility in Laredo near the World Trade Bridge, approximately 12 miles from the newly acquired facility.