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Antelope Wells border crossing waits for final mile of paved road in Mexico

upfront_villagranANTELOPE WELLS – An $11 million U.S. port of entry at this remote border crossing leads to a mud-rutted ranch road in Mexico that runs for a mile before it connects to pavement.

The modern Antelope Wells port, about an hour south of Hachita, opened in 2013. That was around the time Mexican officials announced they would build a road to connect a key border highway to the port they call El Berrendo.

It still isn’t finished.

There is six miles of road between Mexico’s border highway and the port of entry. Mexico has paved five miles in four years; the last dirt mile was a muddy mess earlier this month.

Why didn’t government contracts cover the whole way?

“Exactly,” said Sebastian Pineda, mayor of Janos, the closest town to the port of entry, about an hour away. “I have asked myself the same question. Why not finish a project that they started?”

Elections in Mexico last summer and the transition of power from a governor of one political party to another hasn’t helped the pace of construction, said New Mexico Border Authority Executive Director Bill Mattiace. He also said “capacity directs priority,” and the traffic, while growing, is very light at the crossing.

There is hardly anything on either side of the border at Antelope Wells.

On the U.S. side, there is the port infrastructure and a forward operating base operated by the Border Patrol. On the Mexican side, there is a small customs building and a military barracks that includes dorms for soldiers, a horse stable, laundry lines and chickens poking around in a yard.

a01_jd_23jan_upfront-antelope-wellsThe port of entry is the quickest gateway from Janos to almost nowhere, except Lordsburg.

The route to Albuquerque is fastest through the Columbus-Palomas port of entry. The route to Tucson is more direct through the Douglas-Agua Prieta border crossing in Arizona.

“That’s one of the reasons no one goes there,” Pineda said. “But when the highway is done, I think we’ll have more traffic that way.”

Antelope Wells is the sleepiest of New Mexico’s three ports of entry despite lately experiencing a small bump in crossings.

Traffic at the port has roughly doubled from five years ago, to between 750 and 1,000 passenger vehicles a month from 200 to 500, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Roger Maier. Shuttle buses and passenger vans add another 100 crossings each month.

The port is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Columbus, open 24 hours, had more than 703,500 cars and trucks in fiscal 2015, and Santa Teresa, open 6 a.m. to midnight, had more than 773,000 passenger vehicles that fiscal year.

Pineda said a meeting with the Chihuahua state governor was planned earlier this month to discuss the last mile of road to the Antelope Wells crossing – until protests erupted across Mexico over a hike in gasoline prices. Gas stations in Janos had run out of gas.

“I think we have to discuss the money (for the road),” he said, “because as far as I know, there is no money.”

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