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International Santa Teresa rail crossing study moving forward

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LAS CRUCES — The New Mexico Border Authority has received an update on the possible development of an international rail crossing to be located at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, south of the Union Pacific Intermodal facility.

Bill Mattiace, executive director of the New Mexico Border Authority, said the project would be another key element in building the Santa Teresa area into a regional powerhouse for international trade and help attract more businesses to the industrial parks developing near the border crossing.

And, he added, the study is on a fast-track to be completed as early as July, although an extension could be granted extending to November. But he is encouraged by the study’s progress and the bi-national cooperation with Mexico, which is conducting a parallel study of needed connections south of the border and between the county, Burlington Northern, Union Pacific and other players.

“They even suggested that if the capacity is great enough after they do the study and findings and collect data, a dual rail might be necessary,” Mattiace said.

Officials with U.S. customs who attended Wednesday’s meeting also suggested designing commercial traffic lanes along with the dual rail, he said.

Laying groundwork

The NMBA is the lead agency for the $2 million feasibility study. As the state agency for port infrastructure, NMBA has capital outlay projects that will, if the project is viable, improve roads and create the first ever dual customs clearance facility at the Foxconn plant in Mexico, all of which will be needed to handle increased rail and truck traffic.

HNTB, an international engineering, architecture and planning firm specializing in infrastructure and based out of Houston, was selected in late 2014 to conduct the feasibility study for the new railway bypass and international border crossing. If the study shows the crossing is feasible, the project would be designed to link with a proposed railroad to be built from the west coast of Mexico to San Jeronimo, just across the border from Santa Teresa.

The rail line, backed by Chinese investors, would ferry goods from Pacific ports to the crossing where freight could be taken to the Union Pacific terminal in Santa Teresa to continue on to the interior or eastern United States.

Long-term benefits

While the study will be complete later this year, there are still extensive and lengthy steps to gain an international crossing permit as well as reports on environmental land rights, rail line rights and how laws would be enforced on both sides of the border, Mattiace said. Then would come design work, permitting and, eventually construction.

While this is a long-term project to bring to fruition, it has support on both sides of the border.

State Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said the proposal for international rail stands to benefit New Mexico’s economy while speeding goods across the country.

“I think anything that we do with rail, being able to quickly move goods across the state, is good,” Papen said. It would also decrease some of the truck traffic and the resulting wear and tear on the state’s roadways and continue to foster growth in the region.

“I’m supportive of anything we can get there,” she said. “It’s good business, they pay great salaries with good benefits and I’m all for it.”

With the recent addition of a Turkish company in the Santa Teresa industrial parks, it will add to the development of the south Doña Ana County area as an international hub.

“With the international trade we have going, Foxconn plant across the border, all of those things make us an international trade zone and that’s very important.”

Wednesday’s meeting comes on the heels of a, earlier March gathering in Chihuahua that brought together business leaders and elected officials from both sides of the border to focus on improving border infrastructure to speed up crossings of trade goods and people.

According to LaOpcion, a Mexican newspaper, Chihuahua Gov. César Duarte is a strong proponent of the improvements to the crossing and the Santa Teresa international rail crossing.

“The only things that battle backwardness are employment, education, access to health, all, aspects that improve living conditions of nations,” Duarte told LaOpcion. “All of you may count on the support of the government of Chihuahua to promote the infrastructure that will allow us to keep on moving forward.”