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American Shipper

Nogales port scores big with stimulus

Nogales port scores big with stimulus

      Mariposa is the largest gateway for Mexican produce sold throughout the United States (4 billion pounds a year) and also handles traffic to and from Mexican maquiladora manufacturing plants on the border.

      About 300,000 trucks, 45,000 pedestrians and 1.2 million cars per year pass through the border station, and Arizona State University researchers forecast this volume to double by 2025. There are only four lanes for commercial traffic to enter the customs compound and during the high produce season trucks can wait in line for several hours to enter the United States.

      The General Services Administration plans to start construction on a $226 million overhaul in October with the help of $199 million in funds from the $787 billion economic recovery act, according to Tom Yearout, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's assistant director for mission support at the Tucson, Ariz., field office.

      The Mariposa modernization and expansion, currently in the detailed design phase, moved up the priority list in accordance with stimulus guidelines that targeted money at ready-to-go projects that could quickly create jobs.

      Under the plans, every building on site will be knocked down and reconstructed.

      The first phase of construction involves adding 600,000 cubic yards of fill to expand the facility's usable space. The complex sits on a plateau surrounded by deep ravines. Contractors will fill in the ravines with rock and dirt to expand the site from 40 acres to 52 acres, Yearout said.

      The port will also add three commercial vehicle lanes for a total of seven lanes, plus a bypass lane for oversized cargo. It will triple the number of private vehicle lanes to 12 and double to four the number of non-intrusive X-ray lanes available in the secondary inspection area, he said.

      The truck dock capacity will also be increased. The facility has 100 very short docks, but the real capacity is only a quarter that amount because it takes two to four docks to offload a truck with a large load.

      The new facility will have 56 docks that are 72 feet deep so that officers can offload directly behind the truck and fully use every dock, Yearout said.

      The upgraded border station will also be configured to take advantage of technology as much as possible. Every truck lane will be equipped with transponder readers to operate as a FAST lane instead of having dedicated lanes so the port director can expand or contract capacity based on the type of traffic volume. Free and Secure Trade, or FAST, is a program that uses wireless identity cards and truck tags for expedited clearance of pre-vetted drivers and low-risk shippers.

      All the passenger lanes will also be equipped with radio frequency identification to automatically identify SENTRI participants (pre-screened trusted travelers) and holders of new passport cards.

      The existing port was never designed for pedestrian traffic, but the upgraded one will have a dedicated pedestrian processing and bus inspection area.

      And it will be one of the first ports of entry to have outbound inspection facilities as CBP ramps up checks of people and cargo leaving the country.

      Also included in the project's design is a covered parking lot for employees that will have photovoltaic cells on top to power all the building operations and a rainwater recovery system for landscaping.

      Yearout stressed that CBP is taking every step to make sure the trade community does not experience any construction-related delays during the four-year project.

      'The reason it takes that long is that we will not reduce the current capacity during construction,' he said.

      And as soon as new lanes are built they will be opened for operation.

      Produce distributors had hoped the new border station would include cold storage areas to protect fruits and vegetables from the heat when trucks have to be stripped for an inspection, but Yearout said there are no plans for such an addition. Instead, CBP will continue to transfer temperature-sensitive cargo into refrigerated trailers during physical inspections.

      The facility will also include new kennels for canine teams, and enhanced site and building security.

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