La Entrada de Pacifico, yet another Trans Texas Corridor in the works

Link to article here. The Executive Director of TxDOT, Amadeo Saenz, told TURF under oath that La Entrada is part of the Trans Texas Corridor.

Trade route is still a road to nowhere
By John MacCormack

ALPINE — In most settings, likening a West Texas highway project to a symbol of Cold War oppression and comparing its promoters to terrorists might be a bit of a stretch.But at a public hearing here last week, such hyperbole resonated perfectly with the mood.

“Borrowing words spoken in Berlin 20 years ago, ‘Mr. Craddick, Mr. Perry, Mr. Bush, tear down these signs,'” said John Wotowicz of Marfa, prompting a standing ovation from the more than 450 attendees.

Another speaker called the state’s mild-mannered transportation consultant a “bloodsucker.”

For years, highway signs marking the proposed route of La Entrada al Pacifico have stirred hope, anxiety and perplexity among Big Bend area residents.

A NAFTA-era brainchild of businessmen in Midland and Odessa, the project has had the support of heavyweight Austin and Washington elected officials.

So far, however, it has received far more study and debate than money. Only a small relief route around Midland is funded. For all the passion it is stirring, it is far from certain its backers will see their vision become a reality.

As originally conceived, a divided four-lane highway from the border town of Presidio to Amarillo would allow Mexican trucks loaded with Asian imports more direct access to East Coast markets.

But the thought of hundreds of heavy trucks rumbling daily through the quaint downtowns of Marfa, Alpine and Fort Davis has fired broad opposition.

Plague or boon

Critics say the trucks would bring a plague of congestion, noise and pollution, destroying an ambience that has made tourism an area economic mainstay and Marfa a mecca for wealthy outsiders such as Wotowicz, an investment banker from New York City.”I don’t know one soul in this county who doesn’t oppose it. It’s that simple,” said Brewster County Judge Val Beard.

“It’s a concept whose time has passed. It went out the window when everyone thought there would be a huge maquila industry in northern Mexico, but now that has been whacked by the Chinese,” she said.

And while many at the Alpine hearing argued for improving rail connections to Mexico through Presidio, the decrepit condition of the line on the U.S. side makes that less likely than a truck route.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which owns the now-idle rail line that stretches to San Angelo, estimates it would take more than $150 million to make it commercially viable.

Only in needier corners of West Texas — like Presidio, Fort Stockton and Pecos, where the vistas are a bit less inspiring and tourists are fewer — does La Entrada find support as a source of jobs and development.

At public hearings last week around the region, a TxDOT consultant gave both sides reason to be unhappy.

“We’re not recommending widening anything to a four-lane capacity and we’re also eliminating the new corridor alternatives,” said Brian Swindell of HDR, a Dallas firm.

Instead, he said, existing two-lane roads will be able to handle the anticipated growth in truck traffic with the addition of passing zones, relief routes and other improvements.

50 trucks a day

About 50 trucks a day now cross the two-lane bridge at Presidio from Ojinaga, Mexico. Until some recent highway improvements, the remote border city was largely isolated from the rest of Mexico by mountains and canyons.By comparison, some 2,500 trucks arrive daily in El Paso from Mexico, and more than twice that many cross over at Laredo.

According to Swindell’s study, which will be completed this fall, Presidio can expect between 338 and 739 trucks arriving per day by 2030, depending on numerous variables and uncertainties, almost all on the Mexican side of the equation.

Chief among them is how quickly — if ever — Mexico provides a highway link from Ojinaga to the Pacific port of Topolobampo, and how soon it improves the port, which cannot yet handle large ships.

The opening or expansion of other commercial border crossings could also affect the Presidio traffic. And while the consultant’s truck numbers were far lower than other estimates, they did not go down well in Alpine.

“What I’m hearing sounds like a done deal, with bogus, made-up statistics,” griped Tom Williams of Terlingua.

“I’m not hearing anything about moving it all to El Paso,” he added.

The next day, Swindell and the TxDOT crew got a warmer reception in Presidio, about one hour south and a cultural giant step from Marfa.

One glance at the two cities explains their conflicting takes on La Entrada.

Marfa has a majestic courthouse and a manicured, restored downtown, complete with a fine hotel, cultural foundations and a bookstore and art galleries.

Hip outsiders arrive from California and New York to reflect on wide-open spaces, shoot cowboy movies and discuss art.

‘West Texas in the raw’

Presidio, by contrast, has small-block houses and low-end retail commerce amid unpaved roads. Alfalfa fields, junked cars and abandoned mobile homes decorate the landscape.And the first thing visitors arriving from Mexico encounter in Presidio is “La Casa de Oro,” a highway flea market spilling over with bicycles, tires and used clothing. There is no doctor, and the nearest hospital is 90 miles away in Alpine.

While fewer than 40 people turned out to hear Swindell’s talk at Presidio High School, most locals favored La Entrada.

“Presidio is West Texas in the raw. We have to scratch for everything we can get here,” said John Ferguson, a former mayor who is the school bandleader.

Years ago, melon and onion harvests produced steady seasonal work, but agriculture is almost entirely gone, leaving only cross-border traffic and public employment, he said.

“We’re sensitive to the concerns about the environment and to what the people are saying in Marfa and Alpine, and we empathize, but being on the border, truck traffic is good for Presidio,” he said.

Benny Manchett, 75, who works for Bullet Transport in Presidio, scoffs at the notion that a good highway will ever connect Ojinaga with the Pacific.

“It’s a joke. You’ve got an 8,000-foot natural barrier between here and Topolobampo,” he said.

“It took them 100 years to build a railroad through there. Why would you want to go through the Copper Canyon to come here when you can go straight north over flat land to Nogales?” he said.

Others in Presidio are equally skeptical.

“You might as well say we’re going to have aliens come through Presidio. It’s a dream. You have to get more realistic to get my attention,” said Jake Giesbrecht, Bullet Transport’s owner.

“I’m part of the Mexican government’s planning committee. There is nothing planned in the next 10-15 years for a corridor through here. It’s a ghost. Everyone is making things up,” he said.

Contacted by telephone in Chihuahua City, Mexico, the overseer of the project for Chihuahua state, Armando Correa Nuñez, said great progress has been made on the highway but confirmed the uncertainty of ever cutting a truck route through Copper Canyon.

“They will build a road through the canyon someday, but at the beginning it will be a very narrow road for tourism. I just don’t know if they will ever build one for trucks,” he said.

“It’s a lot of money and the state doesn’t have it. It would have to come from the federal government, and President Calderón hasn’t designated it as a priority route,” Correa said.

With or without good access to the Pacific, truck traffic will increase in Presidio no matter what anyone in the United States does or wants, said Charles Perry of Odessa, who founded the Midland Odessa Transportation Alliance in the early ’90s to promote La Entrada.

“The Mexicans have been moving along a lot faster than we have in the United States in getting the corridor open, and that’s astounding everyone,” said Perry, 78.

Neither Texas nor Mexico “is in a position to direct traffic on which highway the trucks will take,” he said. “Traffic is like water: It will take the path of least resistance.”

“In 10 years, you’ll see traffic sufficient to begin the need for a four-lane highway. Somewhere around 5,000 vehicles a day is the limit for a two-lane. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”