US-Mexico truck delays forecast to last weeks

US-Mexico truck delays forecast to last weeks

US-bound trucks arriving at the Mexican border face weeks of further delays, as immigration crisis spawns a freight crunch. Photo credit: US Customs & Border Protection.

Shippers dealing with trucking delays and congestion at the US-Mexico border must make changes to their supply chains if they want to minimize the cost of disruption from the shifting of customs personnel from cargo inspection to immigration duties early this month, according to Gene Sevilla, vice president of international supply chain solutions at Ryder System.

In particular, Sevilla recommends US importers should use the expedited cargo clearance programs that evolved in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program and Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). “The vast majority of the freight we bring into the US enters under one of these programs,” Sevilla told Monday.

As the freight crunch at the border enters its third week, “We continue to see delays, but the delays are not horror stories,” he said. “We see a slow down. We’ve had trucks take as long as 10 hours to go across the border” at certain points and certain times. Increasingly, finding trailers is a challenge on the Mexican side of the border, adding to freight delays.

“We are adding some equipment at the border to make sure we can move as fast as we can for our customers,” said Sevilla. “In spite of all our best efforts, the fact is the border is slow these days and is likely to remain slow for several weeks.” Any resolution to the congestion, he said, depends on some solution to the immigration crisis on the Mexican border.

FAST lanes certainly can help expedite trucks, even during periods of peak congestion. But FAST capacity has its limits. Only 11 of 23 US-Mexico truck border crossings have FAST lanes, according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and it’s unlikely all those FAST lanes are staffed and open. Several have been closed periodically since the crisis began.

At approximately 3 p.m. EDT (12 p.m. PDT), 65 of the 88 truck lanes at the Southwest US border were open, according to a survey of data on CBP’s Border Wait Times website. That number varies depending on time of day, but lane closures have been common since CBP began reassigning 545 officers for 30-day shifts caring for migrants in custody.

But a FAST lane, when it’s open, is still a quicker route across the border; delays are often half those for trucks in standard lanes. “These lines are generally continuing to flow faster than the other lanes,” Sevilla said. “They’re not as fast as they used to be, because there are fewer expedited lanes for these trucks, but they’re faster than if you’re on the regular track.”

In the meantime, Ryder’s “assets are less productive,” he said. “Where I had a truck doing three round trips [across the border a day], now it’s only doing two. That’s costing the driver who used to do those deliveries money. It’s a difficult situation from a productivity perspective, and it won’t be long before people realize there’s a permanent cost increase” in cross-border trucking.

Cross-border expansion

The cross-border freight crunch hit just as Ryder is expanding its trucking and warehousing footprint in Mexico to support growing cross-border trade. The Miami-based company hopes to complete the expansion of a Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, trucking yard this month that will nearly triple the number of truck and trailer spots Ryder has on hand available to support cross-border moves.

Ryder is also expanding three warehouses and building a fourth, adding 270,000 square feet of new storage space in Mexico and bringing its total space to more than 10.5 million square feet. Two of the sites are near the border, one in the state of Chihuahua and the other in Nuevo León. The other two are in the Bajío region, Mexico’s industrial heartland, and near Mexico City.

For most US importers and Mexican shippers, there are few alternatives to cross-border trucking bottlenecks, Sevilla said. “It’s not like there is lots and lots of available capacity in other modes of transportation. The rail companies in Mexico are operating pretty much at capacity, which deters shifting truck freight to intermodal rail. It is a serious problem.”

It may be possible to shift freight originating in Monterrey, Mexico, from the Laredo crossing (145 miles) to McAllen-Pharr (155 miles), in coordination with local Customs offices and carriers, but many shippers and importers are dependent on specific crossing points or regions. Businesses may also want to try ocean routes to the United States, but that would prove problematic as well.

“If you have a plant in Monterrey, you might say, ‘I’m going to truck my freight to the Gulf and ship it to Tampa.’ But you might not find [sailings with] enough frequency from Altamira to Tampa,” Sevilla said. Sheer volume oftens keep cross-border freight bound for the United States on trucks, and Mexico’s geography keeps that freight headed to the same border crossing.

And with door-to-door delays caused by border congestion now in the one-to-two-day range, according to several logistics sources, mode switching may not bring much relief to time-constrained supply chains either, unless the mode chosen is expedited air. “What shippers are doing now is prioritizing freight they need immediately,” Sevilla said.

In some cases, shippers are breaking down shipments, expediting a few skids by express air, and dispatching the rest of the load by truck. “If the truckload won’t arrive tomorrow, but will be there in three days, maybe I fly in the pallets I need to get me through the next two days until I get the truckload that will get me through the next week and a half,” Sevilla said.

“Maybe they’re slowing down manufacturing lines,” he said. “But it’s impossible to move all that is going across the border by truck to trains or air. There’s just not enough capacity.”

Contact William B. Cassidy at and follow him on Twitter: @willbcassidy.