Bridges over troubled lands

Frontera NorteSur

In many ways, the US-Mexico border is perhaps more disconnected than at any moment  in recent memory. Physically, a wall divides two neighboring countries along big stretches of their common frontier. Tightened security restrictions make ordinary travel an ordeal. Alarmed by incessant violence, US residents have stopped visiting their sister cities in droves. Declining crime rates on the US side stand in stark contrast to the violence chewing away at the social fabric on the Mexican side.

Last year, an internationally-distributed news service went so far as to headline “Wall of Hate and Poverty Divides El Paso and Juarez” above an article about the borderland.

But when it comes to commerce and money, the connections persist and even grow deeper. In the Paso del Norte region, the construction of new border crossings moves ahead as the NAFTA economy maintains its dominance.

On Wednesday, July 20, US and Mexican officials attended a ground-breaking ceremony that kicked off the construction of the new Tornillo-Guadalupe International Bridge and Port of Entry located about 30 miles south east of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

Officials on hand included Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte, Guadalupe Mayor Tomas Archuleta and El Paso County Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr.

“It is exciting to see this new port of entry take shape after than a decade’s worth of effort,” said Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes. The El Paso Democrat worked diligently over the years to secure funding for a $133 million facility that’s expected to be finished by late 2012 or sometime in 2013.

“It’s coming at a critical time for our community and will boost our region’s economy,” Reyes said in a statement prior to the groundbreaking ceremony.

According to Reyes’ office, nearly $96 million from federal funds will help pay for the new port of entry.

Once completed, the six-lane bridge will replace the smaller, outdated Fabens-Caseta crossing, which was opened in 1938. In a sign of the times, the new bridge will utilize solar energy and environmentally-efficient lighting.

In Mexico, Chihuahua state officials are aggressively pushing the construction of a highway by-pass that will directly connect to Tornillo-Guadalupe. Sergio Garfio, Chihuahua state secretary of public works, said the administration of Gov. Duarte has submitted an application to the federal Secretariat of Communications and Transportation for rights to build a road leading to the new international crossing.

The planned by-pass will begin just south of Ciudad Juarez at Samalayuca and plow through the rural Juarez Valley before ending at Guadalupe. It will allow commercial freighters traveling north from the maquiladoras of Chihuahua City and other points in the Mexican interior to avoid the congestion of Ciudad Juarez and arrive quickly to the US border.

Once over the new bridge, traffic will have easy access to US Interstate 10 and the many cities lining the highway.

Estimated to cost more than $40 million, the highway construction could begin later this year and wrap-up by the end of 2012, according to Garfio. The Mexican official called  the new crossing  “fundamental” for the Ciudad Juarez area.

The Samalayuca by-pass will cut through a historic agricultural zone that’s been devastated and depopulated by an unprecedented wave of violence unleashed by criminal bands competing for control of the strategic border zone. On June 20, 2010, then-Guadalupe Mayor Jesus Manuel Lara Rodriguez, 48, was murdered while visiting  Ciudad Juarez. Lara’s brother David was gunned down in the Juarez Valley earlier this year.

According to Proceso magazine, the tiny municipality of Guadalupe (estimated population 6,458), witnessed 139 murders during the last four years. The homicide rate was the astounding equivalent of 2,152 killings for every 100,000 inhabitants. Hundreds of families have fled Guadalupe and surrounding towns in the Juarez Valley, with many of them seeking refuge in the United States.

Meanwhile, US and Mexican officials are busy laying the groundwork for yet another border crossing in the Paso del Norte corridor. Flush with a $12 million budget,  The City of Sunland Park and the State of New Mexico are currently exploring land purchases and environmental studies for a new crossing at Sunland Park and Anapra, a low-income neighborhood situated on the northwestern edge of Ciudad Juarez.

Reportedly, the funds come mainly from donations previously made by Stan Fulton, the owner of the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. Local officials are expected to travel to Washington, D.C. to lobby for a long-envisioned crossing that could be ready within the next three years. According to City of Sunland Park spokesman Arturo Alba, building the crossing could cost in the $110-$130 million range.

In addition to the Tornillo-Guadalupe and Sunland Park-Anapra projects, existing regional ports of entry undergoing expansion include Berrendo-Antelope Wells, Palomas-Columbus and San Jeronimo-Santa Teresa.

Additional sources: Lapolaka.com, July 20, 2011. El Diario de El Paso, July 18 and 20, 2011. Articles by Lorena Figueroa and Luis Chaparro. Nortedigital.com.mx, July 10 and 19, 2011. Articles by Francisco Cabrera and Salvador Castro. Proceso/Apro, March 8 and 9, 2011. Articles by Marcela Turati and editorial staff. Inter Press News Service, June 23, 2010. Article by  Daniela Pastrana.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

For a free electronic subscription email: fnsnews@nmsu.edu

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