Border Crossings Hold Promise for Renewed Investment

The public and private sectors are working to modernize the nation’s borders.

  • Currently, $2 billion in economic activity comes through the US-Mexico border land ports of entry daily
  • The country’s border crossings are now in need of roughly $4 billion in improvements
  • States such as California and Texas have already launched projects

A large number of contracting opportunities at US ports of entry are being anticipated in 2019.

Long neglected, the country’s border crossings are now in need of roughly $4 billion in improvements. Following the White House and Congress’ ongoing discussions about border security, it appears that those needs will finally be addressed.

Currently, $2 billion in economic activity comes through the U.S.-Mexico border land ports of entry every single day. Many older facilities cannot handle the current traffic flow and, as a result, extremely long wait times are costing the U.S. economy millions of dollars.

Officials say that inadequate funding for more inspectors, technology and infrastructure repair have directly resulted in making border crossings the preferred point through which smugglers attempt to traffic drugs. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency reports that nearly 90 percent of drug seizures, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl, are entering the country through official border crossings.

The Trump administration earlier this year requested $675 million for non-intrusive inspection technology for contraband detection at land ports of entry throughout the Southwest. Despite the prolonged standoff over funding for border security in the form of a wall, there is bipartisan support for investing in new technology and new infrastructure at ports of entry.

Bipartisan legislation for an assessment of needs was also recently filed. The North American Development Bank Improvement Act of 2019 would open up new funding opportunities for border infrastructure projects by relaxing project qualifications that in the past have blocked funding for some projects.

However, some states are already launching projects.

In California, the Calexico West Land Port of Entry Reconfiguration and Expansion Project, has received $191 million in funding through the 2019 federal appropriations package. The project includes additional north and southbound inspection lanes, an expanded pedestrian processing facility and a new administrative office.

The state of California’s annual trade with Mexico is valued at more than $190 billion and, because of the long wait lines, officials say that approximately 5,639 jobs have been lost and $436 million in business. The $191 million federal appropriation will get the first phase of work started but another $85 million will be necessary to complete the project. That amount of funding is included in the 2020 budget.

In Texas, a one-year study on facial recognition camera systems is already underway in the city of Mission. The pilot program, which began in August, is intended to evaluate the feasibility of so-called exit checks. If successful, the US Customs and Boarder Control is expected to launch an estimated $1 billion procurement for the facial recognition system

Many older facilities cannot handle the current traffic flow and, as a result, extremely long wait times are costing the U.S. economy millions of dollars.

P3 Prospects

Public-private partnerships (P3s) will likely become common at border crossings because many projects need to be launched immediately.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported substantial increases in passenger and cargo volumes. To address the issue, the agency has implemented two public-private partnership efforts: the Reimbursable Services Program (RSP) and the Donations Acceptance Program (DSP). The RSP allows CBP to partner with the public sector or government entities for services such as immigration, border security and customs. DSP enables CBP to receive infrastructure, services or personal property from public and private sector entities. Both programs create a precedent for P3s, and others are likely to follow.

Congress has also taken notice of border crossing P3s.

The objective of a bill filed recently in Congress is to find ways that the private sector can contribute to ports of entry with “processes or activities determined not to be inherently governmental.” This is not, however, a new concept. International bridges in South Texas have been successful with collaboration from private-sector partners in the past.

Additionally, one of the most successful P3 bridge ventures on the border has recently announced a $10 million expansion.

The Cross Border Xpress in San Diego, California, a privately financed and operated crossing point, allows for foot passage from San Diego into Mexico and the Tijuana airport. Nearly 290,000 travelers crossed the bridge in December 2018.  That’s a 31% annual increase for the month of December. Officials say they anticipate an annual total of 2.7 million travelers in 2019.

The 390-foot bridge stands as a testament to successful P3s and its expansion points to the potential that this model could be implemented at other foot ports of entry.

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