EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The City of El Paso estimates it’ll lose $1.3 million in toll revenue at its international bridges this year and city leaders don’t expect to recoup those loses any time soon.
The decrease in collections coincides with the reassignment of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to migrant processing duties this year, according to an Aug. 5 report from the city’s International Bridges Department.
The move resulted in staffing shortages at inspection booths on the toll bridges owned by the city. The number of crossings dropped over time and some truckers opted for using commercial ports of entry in Laredo, Texas and Nogales, Arizona, states the report presented to the El Paso City Council earlier this month.
“We’re estimating it’s down by 10 percent or $1.3 million. That’s what we have on budget, that’s what we’re expecting,” El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said.
He explained that international bridge revenue had its last big drop during the recession of 2008-2009. But that 10 percent revenue decrease was cut in half a year later before going back to normal as the economy improved.
“The last time it went down because of the recession but then it went back up quick. Now it’s going to take some time for it to come up because this wasn’t recession-driven, it was policy-driven,” Gonzalez said this week. “It’s not realistic to say next year we’re going to rebound. We might be here for the next two to three years. If it does get better, it’s going to be (down) 9 percent, 8 percent, that kind of thing.”
Toll crossings decreased by 219,836 vehicles in the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2019 (a 23.3% difference), and toll revenue went down $705,939 in the same period (a 21.3% decrease). More pedestrians used the international crossings as vehicle wait times at the bridges shot up to around 100 minutes for passenger vehicles (4.5 hours for commercial trucks at the time). That resulted in increased revenue of $73,244, but not nearly enough to offset the losses, city officials said.
Since the end of the second quarter, CBP has given priority to cargo staffing over vehicle staffing, which has resulted in lower wait times for truckers. However, the federal agency declined to accept overtime money for its agents from the City of El Paso, under a program called “3P,” which is meant to reduce vehicle wait times. “CBP is unable to accept additional P3 overtime requests to open more lanes, so vehicle wait times will continue to be negatively impacted,” the report states.