Travelers at the U.S.-Mexico border are experiencing longer and longer wait times. While NAFTA has proven economically advantageous for both countries—partly by encouraging tourism and trade in border towns—one negative consequence of increased economic activity has been longer lines at land ports of entry (LPOEs). The demand to cross from one country to the other usually exceeds a port’s capacity to efficiently process that traffic. This is particularly true in highly populated, bi-national regions such as El Paso-Ciudad Juarez.
Longer wait times mean frustrated travelers, which in turn can result in lost economic opportunity for border businesses when tourists give up and go home. But there are other consequences: idling cars at the border create air pollution for local communities. Increased rates of asthma, emphysema and other respiratory illnesses can occur. Higher public costs from increased medical needs—particularly in areas where low-income families live—can be the result. In other words, delays at LPOEs can create a domino effect of increased costs across the societal spectrum, much of which is borne by communities like El Paso-Ciudad Juarez.
Arming port personnel with the information they need to better manage traffic is one way to mitigate congestion at LPOEs. Our researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research are currently evaluating software to do just that. Aimsun, an integrated transport modeling software developed by Transport Simulation Systems, performs complex traffic operational assessments in a short period of time. Our project is assessing its real-time capabilities for managing and evaluating different operational strategies and policies. We’re also developing an intuitive interface that allows port personnel to perform basic operational evaluations on the Web.
Feeding actual traffic conditions into our Aimsun model, port personnel will be able to evaluate different operational strategies whenever congested conditions occur. Is it better, for example, to open two extra booths during a 30-minute window of the day, or only one booth for two hours? Using TTI’s model, port operators can reduce delays and travel times, as well as decrease emissions produced by idling vehicles waiting to cross the border. And that will positively impact the health of the local community and, commensurately, reduce societal costs associated with air pollution. In short, operators can use better information to make better decisions to manage traffic, and that means less dominoes falling in border communities that can ill afford them.
David Salgado Manzano is an assistant transportation researcher with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research.