EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Several El Paso and Juarez residents who just made a quarter-mile walk from Mexico take a respite under some trees at the edge of the Ysleta Port of Entry.

Suddenly, a woman picks up her backpack and a shopping bag and walks onto the access road to busy Loop 375. She passes a row of vehicles parked along what should be a right-turn lane. She walks past a black car double-parked on the frontage road and gets into a white pickup whose driver keeps an eye on the rearview mirror to avoid being rear-ended.

“It has always been dangerous, more so early in the mornings and at night when there is more traffic. People have nowhere to park,” said Ernestina Ochoa, a Juarez resident who makes trips to El Paso twice a month. On Thursday, she, too, was waiting for her ride and hoping not to be run over by a distracted or impatient motorist.

The City of El Paso owns the land where the border crossing is located, and its officials are aware of the problem. They plan to use $3 million in toll revenues and a $12 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to make the port of entry safer for the estimated 1 million pedestrians who use it every year.

“People are parking on the access road, the frontage road. It’s not a safe place to be. We want to relocate vehicles to a safe area so they can pick up pedestrians in a safe manner as they go back and forth between the two cities,” said David Coronado, the city’s managing director for international bridges and economic development.

In addition to a parking lot, the money is to be used for sidewalk repairs, canopies to protect border crossers from triple-digit heat, lights so they don’t stumble at night and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant walkways.

The work is part of a broader $50 million initiative to modernize El Paso’s ports of entry. Ysleta, known as Zaragoza across the border, is the region’s largest commercial port of entry but has been getting more and more passenger vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the past decade as El Paso and Juarez continue to grow eastward.

“We have been making a lot of improvements on the vehicle side, on the cargo side. […] This grant is going to allow us to focus on pedestrians,” Coronado said. The crossing gets about half the traffic of El Paso’s two Downtown international bridges but “a lot of the growth we are seeing in Juarez and El Paso is going east, and the numbers show that here.”

Ernestina Ochoa (left) and Maria Sanchez talk about the safety situation for pedestrians coming out of the Ysleta Port of Entry. (Border Report photo)

The timeline for improvements remains fluid, as the city must coordinate the work with the various federal agencies – U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Agriculture Department, Federal Protective Services, et al – that operate at the port of entry. That’s in addition to the Texas Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Planning Organization concerned with traffic flows.

“This coordination is necessary for the design and construction to take place and also (cooperation) with Fideicomiso de Puentes – essentially the government of Chihuahua – in Juarez,” Coronado said. “We are looking at all users and also the needs in Juarez.”

Solving the take-your-life-into-your-own-hands traffic situation coming out of the crossing can’t come soon enough for Maria Sanchez, an Eastside El Paso resident.

“You always see cars double-parked and worse. It’s bad,” Sanchez said while waiting under the trees.