EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — For the first time since March 2020, the international bridges will reopen to travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and crossing for non-essential purposes this coming Monday; just scant days away from the start of the holiday season.
UTEP Economics Professor Tom Fullerton says in over the 19-month period that the bridges were closed to non-essential travel to slow the spread of the coronavirus, El Paso lost approximately $300 million in retail sales.
With the bridges poised to be open, Fullerton says it’s a double-edged sword — while shoppers from across the border will boost retail sales, it could also mean more shortages.
“Those retail shortages are probably going to emerge much more quickly than they are in the rest of the country, so El Paso’s going to provide a preview to the holiday shopping conditions elsewhere in the United States as a consequence of a combination of the supply chain disruptions and all of the pent up demand that exists south of the border,” said Fullerton.
In addition to shortages, Fullerton says El Pasoans could see gas prices rise as more people from Mexico cross their vehicles to El Paso and fill up their tanks.
“Whenever inventory depletion accelerates, it always pushes gasoline and diesel prices higher,” said Fullerton.
One Borderland shopper shared his thoughts with KTSM 9, who warns of longer lines and shortages.
“The lines are going to be longer because of the people that are coming over to buy presents and I know that people are going to have a harder time finding gifts,” said Hector Prado who crosses from Juarez to El Paso regularly.
As for traffic, the Texas Department of Transportation has reopened Paisano by the Cordova Bridge (Bridge of the Americas) as well as opened additional lanes for traffic heading to Juarez off of the interstate. However, the project was never meant to impact bridge traffic.
“Again this project was about connectivity from I-10 and 54 to loop 375, it was not in any way to mitigate cross border traffic which is out of our control,” said Jennifer Wright, a spokeswoman for TxDOT.
Advising drivers to allow more time as congestion is expected to continue and increase as the bridges reopened.
“The Bridge of the Americas has always been a super popular crossing point and it has always had congestion and we expect that to continue, we don’t expect a change there,” said Wright. “We do expect that we will continue to see heavy congestion on this bridge and sometimes during rush hours backing up onto our highways as it always did prior to this project.”