City scrambles to cope with collapse of air travel, border crossings


El Paso City Council briefed on impact of COVID-19 on airport passenger volume, toll collection at ports of entry

El Paso is feeling the financial impact of decreased border crossings and air travel at its municipal airport. (Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Border crossings and airport passenger traffic continue to plummet in El Paso — the result of travel restrictions and people’s fear of contracting COVID-19.

El Paso International Airport has seen an 81% decrease in passengers going through the Transportation and Safety Administration checkpoints, Chief Operations and Transportation Officer Monica Lombraña said during a City Council work session Monday called to address the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Meantime, the three city-owned international bridges to Mexico have recorded decreases of 58% and 71% in pedestrian and vehicle traffic, respectively, when compared to the daily averages of the past three years.

“Cargo has not yet been affected but will likely be affected in the future. Northbound traffic has decreased as well,” Lombraña told city leaders at Monday’s City Council work session.

The city collects $3.50 in tolls from passenger vehicles going into Mexico, $7 for empty trucks, $9 for loaded cargo trucks and 50 cents per pedestrians. In 2018, more than 4.34 million pedestrians, 3.7 million passenger vehicles and 524,702 trucks paid those tolls.

All of that is revenue lost, so the City is trying to adjust its budget accordingly. The airport is now budgeting for an ongoing 80% decrease in passenger traffic and a 60% decrease in flights. “We have seen a lot of cancellations of flights, so we may have to adjust that downward as well,” Lombraña said.

At the bridges, the City has curtailed its commitment to pay the overtime incurred by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to keep inspection lanes open longer. The cuts will affect pedestrian lanes.

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