Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

Evaluation of Travel Time Methods to Support Mobility Performance Monitoring:
Zaragoza Bridge (Page 1 of 3)

Final Site Report

April 2002


Office of Freight Mgt. and Operations
Federal Highway Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Washington, DC 20590


Battelle Memorial Institute

Border Crossing Freight Delay Data Collection and Analysis
FY 2001 Data Collection – Zaragoza Bridge

Site Description

The Bridge. The Zaragoza Bridge (figure 1) connects outlying areas of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Officially – and on the Mexican side – it is known as Zaragoza; however, the U.S. side often refers to it as the Ysleta Bridge after a nearby community of that name. It spans the Rio Grande River approximately seven miles southeast of the Bridge of the Americas, another major border crossing between downtown El Paso and Juarez. The Zaragoza Bridge handles auto, truck, and pedestrian traffic, although autos and pedestrians have separate tollbooths and Customs inspections facilities from trucks and are physically separated on the bridge. The bridge operates from 8:00 A.M. to midnight Monday through Friday, and 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. on Saturday. The crossing is closed to commercial vehicle traffic on Sunday. In the El Paso – Juarez metropolitan area, other bridges that also handle truck traffic include the Bridge of the Americas (known in Mexico as the Cordova Bridge) and the Santa Teresa Bridge (a crossing primarily for agricultural commerce, about twenty miles from El Paso in New Mexico).

Map of the El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, area, showing the location of the Zaragoza Bridge on the Rio Grande River.
Figure 1. Area Map – The Zaragoza Bridge.

The Zaragoza Bridge is jointly owned by the cities of El Paso and Juarez. The GSA owns the U.S. border crossing facility, which is operated by U.S. Customs. The City of El Paso Street Department owns and operates the tollbooths for trucks heading for Mexico. The Mexican federal agency "CABIN" owns the Mexican Customs facilities, and the tollbooths for U.S.-bound trucks are owned and operated by CAPUFEZE, the Mexican national highway and tollway agency. Duty free operations on either side of the Zaragoza Bridge do not appear to be as visible as some of the other crossings at which we collected data and do not affect traffic flow.

U.S. and Mexican Customs operate the facilities and control the property where their Customs facilities are located. Data collectors who were operating beside the primary Customs checkpoint and tollbooths in either country had to have permission to be on property operated by the Customs organization of that country. The GSA needs to be notified of the presence of collectors on the U.S. side. For our operations in Juarez, we had the written permission of Mexican Immigration and verbal approval from Mexican Customs and SECODAM (the Mexican Controller's office).

Battelle was fortunate to have a Mexican contact who was a strong proponent of the project because of the study's perceived potential to enhance the flow of commerce through the Juarez-El Paso area. This contact is closely tied to the Juarez and El Paso Chambers of Commerce as well as Mexican Immigration, Customs and Controller's offices, and he arranged all the approvals needed from the Mexican side. His assistance was not only extremely helpful but also instrumental in securing the necessary permission for operations in Mexico. These operations went quite smoothly, largely because the cooperation on both sides of the crossing was uniformly exceptional.

Data collection activities at the Zaragoza Bridge occurred during June 26-28, 2001. Truck travel times across the bridge in both directions were recorded on Tuesday through Thursday each week, for 12 to 12-1/2 hours each day. The times of the data collection were not staggered to obtain a broader picture of activity as they were at other border crossings in our study for one good reason: the Zaragoza Bridge opened at 8:00 A.M. and the data collectors generally ran out of daylight and could no longer read license plates by 8:30 P.M.

Mexico-bound Traffic. On the U.S. side, I-10 runs east from downtown El Paso paralleling the Rio Grande approximately three miles north of the river. The Interstate-like 375 Loop intersects I-10 heading south, has an exit beside the Zaragoza Bridge, then heads west toward downtown El Paso following the Rio Grande. Virtually all Mexico-bound truck traffic enters from the 375 Loop, which is only 0.1 mile from the tollbooth. (Note: all distances below are from the tollbooth for a given direction of travel). Trucks pass through two separated tollbooths on the El Paso side (see figure 2), then the divided lanes rejoin and trucks cross the bridge into Mexico via divided four-lane traffic.

Photo of Outbound 1 data collection point, showing a truck entering the tollbooth and another exiting it. An official's car is in the foreground.
Figure 2. Outbound 1 data collection point just prior to tollbooths on U.S. side.

On reaching the other side of the bridge, they turn sharply left and get into single file to go through an unmanned booth (on one side of the structure that houses the toll collectors for the other direction of travel). Then they fan out upon arrival at the Mexican primary inspection checkpoint at 0.6 mile. Mexican primary has a total of five booths (see figure 3), but generally only two or three were open. One booth on the extreme right (left in the picture) was originally intended for "favored" carriers under a NAFTA provision but that arrangement was never enacted. Empty trucks use that "NAFTA" lane, however.

Photo of Outbound 2 data collection point, showing cars and trucks exiting the tollbooth. An official's car is in the foreground.
Figure 3. Outbound 2 data collection point at Primary on the Mexican side.

At primary, some trucks are directed to the secondary inspection dock just pass primary on the left, but most proceed straight to a backup checkpoint at 0.9 mile. The two-booth backup checkpoint ("Segundo Reconocimiento") is technically not a secondary inspection but rather a double-check on primary that is conducted by a contractor for the Mexican government. Trucks that are selected at this backup checkpoint to undergo an inspection, back up to a small adjacent dock where they are unloaded. The final checkpoint for all outbound trucks is at 0.9 mile; it has two lanes for outbound trucks but generally operates with one closed off (see figure 4). On one occasion when trucks were backed up all the way from this final checkpoint through the double-check booths and to primary, personnel opened the gate for a second lane that cleared out the backup.

Photo of final Customs station on the Mexican side, showing a truck exiting the checkpoint.
Figure 4. Final outbound/ initial inbound Customs station on Mexican side (looking north).

Trucks exit the Customs area from this final checkpoint onto a roadway known as "Prol. M.J. Clouhtier," which intersects with the Juarez street system after a short distance (see figure 5). At the direction of Mexican Customs officials, a few trucks were observed pulling over to the side of the road immediately past this final checkpoint – apparently to get them out of the traffic flow while clearing up some details of their paperwork. Along this road that leads away from Customs, some truck drivers pull over to the right side of the road to buy snacks from entrepreneurs who set up carts for that purpose.

Photo of Juarez road looking south beyond the final outbound checkpoint, with the Maquiladora facility in the background).
Figure 5. Juarez road looking south after departing final outbound checkpoint (note Maquiladora facility in background); also site of one of the Inbound 1 data collection points for queue on Mexican side.

Just past the vicinity of Mexican Customs are facilities of a number of maquiladoras, the "twin plant" assembly operations that hug Mexico's border with the U.S. The maquiladoras have become the industrial backbone of Mexico's northern border, with more than 3,500 plants employing 1.2 million people. Because of the presence of the maquiladoras, many trucks were observed to cross the Zaragoza Bridge multiple times and short periods apart during the days we collected data. In addition to the trucks that come from the maquiladoras and other Juarez-area origins, other trucks come from the city of Chihuahua approximately 230 miles to the south on Mexico Highway 10.

U.S.-bound Traffic. Trucks make their way through the western outskirts of Juarez onto Prol. M.J. Clouhtier and enter the customs area at an initial checkpoint (which is the same structure as the final checkpoint for Mexico-bound trucks – see figures 4 and 6). At the initial checkpoint, empty trucks go into a booth on the left for processing and trucks with cargo go into a booth on the right (see figure 7). From the initial checkpoint to a two-booth export checkpoint ("Segunda Seleccion Automatizada") is 0.1 mile, and just past on the left are export inspection docks. Most trucks proceed directly to the two-lane tollbooth at 0.4 mile, cross the bridge and reach the six-booth U.S. primary inspection at 0.9 mile (see figure 8).

Photo of Inbound 1 data collection point at initial gate on Mexican side, with an official sitting next to his car in the foreground watching trucks at the gate.
Figure 6. Inbound 1 data collection point at initial gate on Mexican side.

Photo of inbound trucks on the Mexican side between the initial and export checkpoints.
Figure 7. Inbound traffic on Mexican side between initial and export checkpoints.

Photo of Inbound 2 data collection point at Primary on the U.S. side, with an official's car in the foreground.
Figure 8. Inbound 2 data collection point at Primary on the U.S. side.

Immediately past primary is a two-booth truck safety inspection area that is manned by the Federal Office of Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Texas Department of Public Safety (see figure 9). Selected trucks go through the safety inspection. Some other trucks must go through agricultural, X-ray, or other secondary Customs inspections. All cleared trucks exit at a one-booth final checkpoint at 1.1 mile (on the far side of the sprawling Customs building from primary). This exit point is just out of sight to the left in figure 2; the truck with the yellow cab has just passed through the final gate next to a data collection point. Exiting trucks then make a sharp right turn to access the 375 Loop. A large number of those trucks have a destination that is within a short distance of the Zaragoza Bridge.

Photo of Inbound safety inspection checkpoint beside Primary on the U.S. side, showing an open central staircase.
Figure 9. Inbound safety inspection checkpoint beside primary on the U.S. side.

Data Collection Process

For this study, two data collection locations were used in each direction. For consistency among all border crossings visited as part of the overall project, the data collection positions were distinguished by the direction of travel that they were measuring (Inbound or Outbound). Thus, movement from the U.S. side to Mexico is Outbound, and from the Mexican side to the U.S. is Inbound. The Inbound 1 (IB-1) position, therefore, was where U.S.-bound trucks cleared the initial checkpoint entering the Mexican Customs. The Outbound 1 (OB-1) position was immediately before the tollbooth on the El Paso side for Mexico-bound trucks. The "number 2" locations (e.g., IB-2 and OB-2) were immediately after the primary inspection booths on both sides.

Each data collector used a handheld computer to record partial license plate information of all commercial vehicles that passed their location. The computer would also store the time that each license plate was entered. The data from the two locations in each direction would be combined, allowing the determination of the travel time for each vehicle that was recorded at both locations.

During the data collection, the on-site team included four data collectors and one supervisor. The supervisor provided additional support to take over data collection when a collector was given a break or lunch, or sometimes collected supplemental data during a non-typical event.

As previously mentioned, the hours during which data were collected were structured to ensure the greatest possible coverage of traffic from when the bridge opened until data collection was no longer possible due to daylight being lost. Table 1 shows the data collection hours for each day during the site visits. Each data collector actually worked about 12-1/2 hours, with the supervisor collecting data to give them a meal break or rest breaks during the day.

Table 1. Hours of Data Collection
Date Start End


8:00 am

8:40 pm


8:00 am

8:40 pm


8:00 am

8:40 pm

Obtaining permission for the data collection was a relatively smooth process. The initial meeting was held on May 14, 2001 with the U.S. Customs El Paso Assistant Port Director – Trade Operations and the Zaragoza Bridge Chief Inspector. They gave the Battelle representative an extensive tour of the facilities and shared a great deal of information about the bridge and border operations. They also arranged for a meeting the same day with El Paso-West Texas Customs Management Center (CMC) officials, specifically the Acting Director and an Operations Specialist. While very helpful and informative, the CMC officials had not yet received communications from their superiors in Washington authorizing support for the data collection effort and thus were limited in their ability to facilitate any further meetings or liaison with other organizations.

A follow-on meeting of eleven people at the CMC headquarters on June 13 was very productive. Aside from U.S. and Mexican Customs, many local U.S. and Mexican officials including the Mexican Consulate attended the meeting. The result was strong support for the data collection and assurance that all necessary approvals would be secured. In advance of these preparatory meetings, Battelle had distributed several key documents (e.g., the project's explanation, methodology and goals) to help all host organizations understand our purpose. These documents helped to inform all concerned and maximized the time available for discussion and coordination at the meetings.

The data collectors were all experienced, having performed data collection at the Blue Water Bridge two weeks earlier. All permissions and preparations were in place and there was no delay in data collection. No badges were required by either U.S. or Mexican Customs to be on their premises. All three personnel (two data collectors and the supervisor) who operated on the Mexican side retained a copy of the letter of permission from Mexican Immigration and the supervisor provided a copy of that letter to Mexican Customs. Key FHWA Texas Division and Texas DOT representatives were informed about the nature and times of the border crossing study.

Table 2 contains a list of the individuals who were contacted and their telephone and e-mail information. With this, future data collection for this project should be able to be organized and authorized with much less effort. However, any new project would require additional time to explain the data collection objectives to the involved parties and gain their approval.

Photo of the U.S. Customs building at the Zaragoza Bridge, El Paso, Texas.
Figure 10. U.S. Customs building at the Zaragoza Bridge.

Table 2. Agency Contacts
Contact Agency Phone/Fax E-mail
Jack Calloway
Assistant Director
U.S. Customs
El Paso/West Texas Customs Management Center (CMC)
915-633-7300 ext. 141
915-633-7390 (fax)
empty cell
Roger Snider
Operations Specialist
U.S. Customs
El Paso/West Texas Customs Management Center (CMC)
915-633-7300 ext. 165
915-633-7390 (fax)
Frederick Keyser
Assistant Port Director – Trade Operations
U.S. Customs 915-872-5731
915-872-5895 (fax)
Jose De Jesus (J.J.) Lopez
Chief Inspector
U.S. Customs
Zaragoza Bridge
915-872-3403/33 (fax)
Jose Contreras Corral
International Business Consultant and Manufacturer's Representative
FAMCO International Group 915-727-6536 or
011-611-0404 (fax)
Jorge Pasaret
Aduana Mexicana
(Mexican Customs)
empty cell empty cell
Jorge Stevenson
Port Director
Aduana Mexicana
(Mexican Customs)
011-5216-297329 (fax)
empty cell
Allejandro Miranda
Chief Inspector, Zaragoza Bridge
Aduana Mexicana
(Mexican Customs)
915-727-0546 empty cell
Martha Winberg
Director, Communications & Marketing
The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce 915-534-0505
915-534-0554 (fax)
Mike Regan U.S. Consulate, Juarez 011-5216-11-0720 empty cell
Larry Warner GSA Dallas/Ft. Worth 817-313-0569
817-978-4016 (fax)
empty cell
Mark Olson FHWA Texas Division 512-536-5972 empty cell
Lisa Dye FHWA Texas Division 512-536-5926 empty cell
Manny Aguilara Texas DOT
El Paso
915-790-4205/4259 empty cell

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