U.S. Sen. John Cornyn talks transportation needs for El Paso

EL PASO, Texas - U.S. Sen. John Cornyn spent part of Monday discussing transportation needs for the city of El Paso during a roundtable discussion at UTEP. The senator invited experts from around El Paso to give their take on what needs to be done and how much the projects will cost.

"El Paso has a unique position right here on an international border where 6 million American jobs depend on international trade between the U.S. and Mexico," Cornyn said during a news conference after the roundtable talks.

"Not only does El Paso have its usual route challenges when it comes to roads and bridges and the like but it's got a unique challenge and also unique needs when it comes to making sure that we have our ports of entry and our transportation infrastructure development staffed in a way that keeps trade and traffic flowing across our border that it helps grow our economy on both sides of the border," he said.

During the talks, Cornyn stressed the need for public-private partnerships and long-term investments to pay for infrastructure rather than raises taxes. He also made the case for Senate bill 1647 otherwise known as the DRIVE Act.

The bill passed the Senate in July and is a long-term transportation funding bill that helps states pay for infrastructure repair. One provision in the bill gives border states like Texas more flexibility to use federal funding to invest in border infrastructure.

"We passed a six-year authorization, and not to get too far down into the weeds but, we were only able to come up with enough money to pay for the first three years," Cornyn said.

Federal and private funding for transportation is something Mayor Oscar Leeser thinks could help El Paso move forward with repairs and replacement.

"We have a lot of roads are 50 plus years old so there's a lot of potholes there's a lot of expansions I need to be done so how do we address it and how do we find funding," he said.

Leeser points to the number of jobs that are created across the country as a major reason why border infrastructure needs to be a top priority.

"Older cities have different needs and Washington sometimes doesn't understand those needs but it's over 6 million jobs that we're talking about with our trade with Mexico creates," he said. "We're the 17th largest city for exports, which is about $20.1 billion."

Leeser said that as El Paso continues to grow and play an increasingly important role in trade, the roadways need to grow with it.

"It's important to know that as we grow we will continue to need more infrastructure," he said.

Leeser is working with the mayor of Ciudad Juarez and the Mexican consulate to obtain another X-ray machine to speed up customs lines. He believes the move can cut wait times in half for trucks.

Back at UTEP, the director of the Center for Transportation Infrastructure Systems Soheil Nazarian hopes Senator Cornyn's tour of their facility will highlight the need for funding to research roadways.
"We are not utilized as much is El Paso and hoping that the city in the county and other local entities well utilize us," Nazarian said.

His students study things like the effectiveness of asphalt and different types of soil. They are looking for more cost effective ways to build roads that will last. But most importantly, Nazarian hopes this high-profile visit from Cornyn will encourage more students to consider engineering for a career.

"Our reputation is growing and more people are getting excited about UTEP and things like this visit gives us visibility so that the next generation of engineers will come," he said.

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