EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City of El Paso is preparing for an overnight surge in border crossings once the federal government lifts non-essential travel restrictions – something local officials say could happen in late October.
“Right now, we’re cautiously optimistic (the restrictions) will be released by next month,” said David Coronado, managing director of international bridges and economic development. “We still don’t know whether or not that’s going to happen, but we continue to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and (Mexico’s) Aduanas to get ready for that surge in crossings.”
The U.S., Mexico and Canada maintained nonessential land travel restrictions since March 2020 to minimize cross-border spread of COVID-19. The Department of Homeland Security recently extended the restrictions through Oct. 21 and hasn’t said when they will be lifted.
The ban has cost some Downtown El Paso businesses that depend on Mexican shoppers about half their clients, officials said.
Coronado said the El Paso economy continues its recovery to pre-pandemic levels despite the restrictions and stands to strengthen with an influx of spending from south of the border.
“Despite the restrictions, we’re seeing positive signs in retail and hotel occupancy. We’re in the high 70 (percent) occupancy, which is above the U.S. and Texas,” Coronado said at a Monday work session of the City Council. “We expect a much stronger recovery once restrictions are lifted. It’s just a matter of when. […] We continue to monitor it and we have requested from DHS and the White House to let us know days in advance because we need to be ready” for a surge in crossings.
Such a spike would come from Mexicans who’ve been unable to visit specialty stores and malls on the U.S. side in 18 months nor visit family members in El Paso. Coronado said some traffic tie-ups are already popping up at the southbound Stanton Street Bridge.
El Paso’s preparations for a traffic surge include full restoration of the P3 Program, in which the city reimburses U.S. Customs and Border Protection the cost of keeping border-crossing lanes open during peak times, and traffic controls to prevent traffic bottlenecks near the international bridges between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.
“We need at least two to three days (notice) ahead of the reopening. The last thing we want to see is the bridge system exceeding capacity and have congestion issues at the bridges,” he said.
Coronado told the council that commercial truck crossings from Juarez to El Paso have gone back to pre-pandemic levels and, in fact, are up 1% over July 2018. Pedestrian and vehicle crossings are still down but spiked in August compared to July because the resumption of in-person classes at El Paso school drew a sizable number of students from Juarez.
Unemployment is down to 5.8% after hovering near 15% last spring and the July state sales tax allocation for El Paso reflects a 20% increase this July year over year, he said. El Paso’s job gains are strong in the construction industry and education with schools back in full session.
“Sales and (economic) activity in El Paso and consumer spending continue to exceed levels of two, three years ago. We see positive signs of recovery in the region,” he said.