October 5, 2023

Border bottleneck continues, creating huge delays for truckers


It has taken up to 16 hours for tractor-trailers operated by El Paso, Texas-based Tecma Group to cross the border in recent days, a trip that ordinarily takes about two hours.

The Southern border has been a mess for trucks hauling goods from Mexico to the U.S. for the past several weeks, as high numbers of daily migrant crossings and additional commercial truck inspections by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) snarl traffic at some of the busiest border crossings in the country.

“What’s happening is hurting Texas business,” Alan Russell, chairman and CEO of the Tecma Group, told FreightWaves. “Almost everything on the U.S. side of the border related to Mexico trade depends on Texas. The Texas Trucking Association is sitting there with trucks idling, waiting for their cargo to come across the border and it’s not happening. Distribution centers are waiting on their products, factories in Texas are waiting on their finished goods and components. It’s affecting every sector of the Texas economy.”

The Tecma Group, founded in 1986, operates over 8 million square feet of facilities — including production, warehouse and distribution spaces — on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

To help handle the influx of migrants in the El Paso area, U.S. Customs and Border Protection halted cargo operations at El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas on Sept. 18 and moved cross-border cargo truck inspections to the nearby Ysleta-Zaragoza International Bridge. 

Two days later, DPS implemented state-run commercial vehicle safety inspections at the Ysleta bridge, along with the Camino Real Bridge in Eagle Pass, in South Texas. DPS initiated similar inspections in El Paso last December.

Texas DPS also recently began commercial vehicle safety inspections at the Marcelino Serna port of entry in Tornillo, Texas, about 32 miles south of El Paso.

The DPS inspections have caused wait times at the Ysleta and Camino Real bridges, and the port of Marcelino Serna, to skyrocket.

So many tractor-trailers have been stuck in Mexico waiting to cross the border that local trucking associations had to provide portable potties and food to drivers as lines stretched for miles last week, Russell said.

“We are Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) certified, so drivers have to stay with their trucks, stay with the cargo at all times,” Russell said. “We’re compensating them for staying with our trucks, because if we had to bring the trucks back to a secure location, then you will have to go back and get in line again the next day. That doesn’t serve our clients. By the drivers staying/sleeping in the trucks and staying in line when the ports close, we’re having more success.”

CBP has extended hours of operation at both the Marcelino Serna port of entry near El Paso and the Santa Teresa port of entry about 14 miles away across the state line in New Mexico.

Roger Maier, a CBP spokesman, said both Marcelino Serna and Santa Teresa have seen significant upticks in cargo traffic since the migrant surge and Texas DPS inspections began.

“At Marcelino Serna cargo hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. That was extended by two hours,” Maier told FreightWaves. “We are currently seeing about 260 to 300 trucks a day at Marcelino Serna.”

At the Santa Teresa port of entry, cargo hours are currently 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“We also opened last Saturday for an eight-hour shift and will do so again this Saturday. We are processing about 1,400 to 1,500 trucks a day currently at Santa Teresa,” Maier said.

Russell said the trade community and CBP have been able to work through the interruptions to trade flows caused by migrants arriving in the area, but the truck inspections by DPS have slowed cross-border traffic to a crawl.

“With the migrant situation, CBP closed northbound traffic on the Bridge of the Americas, which was handling about 600 trucks a day,” Russell said. “Those trucks were spread to the other nearby ports and we can live with that. We can make that work. So it’s not that this is a migrant problem, it’s the enhanced inspections that are the Achilles heel that backed us up.”

Texas DPS did not return a request for comment from FreightWaves.

DPS Director Steven McCraw recently told the El Paso Times that the inspections were aimed at stopping cartels from smuggling drugs across the border.

“We hope that frequent enhanced commercial vehicle safety inspections will help deter cartel smuggling activity along our Southern border while increasing the safety of our roadways,” McCraw said.

The DPS inspections that began last month are at least the fourth time since April 2022 that the agency has implemented the state-run commercial checkpoints. They are in addition to cross-border truck inspections conducted by Mexico customs, CBP and the Department of Transportation.

U.S. officials have criticized the DPS inspections as unnecessary.

“It’s all show because [Texas DPS] cannot open the trucks,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report. “They can only check for brakes, they can only check for windshield wipers and stuff. They cannot open the cargo trailers.”

Russell also said if the DPS inspections continue for an extended period, it could have a devastating, unrecoverable effect on cross-border operators and the Texas economy.

“This is costing a ton of money,” Russell said. “Normally cross-border trucking operations in this region, we get two truck trips a day. Now we’re getting one, but not consistently. You’ve got the driver, the truck, the diesel, all of that activity going on, which has to be passed through to our clients, which is eventually passed through to the customer. It’s eroding margins for everyone.”

On Tuesday, Trinity Industries Inc. announced that it delivered 4,325 new railcars in the third quarter, 685 units below the company’s quarterly projection. The Dallas-based company cited the closing of U.S.-Mexico border trade lanes by CBP as one of the reasons for lower production.

The company has a rail car production plant in Monclova, Mexico, about 152 miles south of Laredo, Texas.

“Continued rail and truck congestion at the border will negatively impact [our] deliveries and supply chain until the congestion is resolved,” Trinity said in a news release

Manuel Sotelo, vice president of the Juarez chapter of Mexico’s National Chamber of Freight Transport (Canacar), said the slowdowns caused by the DPS inspections have resulted in more than $1.5 billion in goods stranded at the border, according to the EFE [news] Agency.

FreightWaves discusses how the automotive supply chain works.

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The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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