The 35 million passenger cars and trucks heading into Texas from Mexico every year are bringing a big dose of frustration with them. Crossing times vary widely and can range from thirty minutes to more than two hours before the vehicles clear U.S. Customs. Long and uncertain crossing times negatively impact local commuters and businesses by requiring them to add a travel time buffer in order to assure on-time arrival at a cross-border destination. Such unnecessary added time can result in considerable productivity losses. The national and regional economies are also affected by the loss of competitiveness in the global marketplace.
Researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) are proposing a solution.
“We are working on developing a web site and other delivery mechanisms where people can check the current crossing times at a particular border crossing and, depending on the results, change their departure time or crossing location,” explains TTI Research Engineer Rafael Aldrete, director of the Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research (CIITR), located in El Paso.
In addition to developing real-time information accessible through the internet, TTI engineers are developing an innovative concept called the North American Border Crossing Mobility Index which, when completed, would allow comparison of crossing times with ideal, non-congested situations across the nation’s southern and northern land border crossings. “The information will pinpoint which border crossings have a backlog and which ones don’t, giving users average wait times, and providing government agencies with information necessary to allocate resources more efficiently,” Aldrete explains. In many ways, this index builds on TTI’s unparalleled experience in measuring and reporting urban congestion.
The crossing times would be calculated with the help of technology, such as special Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID) readers and vehicle-mounted tags, which would measure the actual time it takes to cross the border. TTI Associate Agency Director Bill Stockton says the estimated cost of the RFID-based crossing time project for the Bridge of the Americas non-commercial crossing would be about $1.2 million.
“We have support for the project from public and private sector organizations in the region, including the City of El Paso, the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the Border Trade Alliance,” says Stockton. “We are hoping to get support from U.S. legislators to assist in obtaining funding needed to install the technology and develop the needed methodology.”
Experts believe an additional benefit of the project would be the potential for less pollution since fewer idling vehicles would create less exhaust emissions at the border.