July 21, 2011 By Sarah Rich
Driving across two bridges that connect El Paso, Texas, to Mexico may soon become as simple as paying a toll at automated kiosks.
But the kiosks at the international bridges might present complexities, such as what forms of payment the kiosks will take and how they will be integrated into security checkpoints operated by U.S. Border and Customs Protection.
The El Paso City Council addressed some of these issues and approved a software upgrade on Tuesday, July 19, that could support four unmanned toll kiosks at the Stanton Street and the Paso Del Norte bridges at the Texas-Mexico border.
The software upgrade is part of the city Bridge Department’s nearly $1.8 million project proposal, which would eliminate the need for bridge toll workers. According to El Paso City Rep. Susie Byrd, the city spends $2 million annually on the salaries of bridge toll workers.
“Our current system is managed under a general software package, which is outdated, so we’ve been making a lot of renovations to the bridges,” Byrd explained. The software upgrade would better manage the revenue El Paso takes from the bridge tolls, she said.
Although the project hasn’t been finalized, Byrd said she hopes a final decision to move forward will be made within the next couple of weeks so the new system can be implemented as soon as possible.
She said the initial project proposal given this week to the City Council supports four kiosks, which is only a quarter of the total traffic lanes in El Paso that lead through bridge tolls to Mexico. But the City Council has asked the Bridge Department to reconfigure plans so more of the lanes would have unmanned kiosks.
The unmanned kiosks wouldn’t allow drivers to cross the border without inspections. Byrd said border inspections will continue to be enforced by the Customs and Border Patrol, an entity of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Byrd said she’d like the new kiosks to accept both U.S. and Mexican currency (the peso), as well as cash, credit, debit cards and smart cards. However, the project proposal as now written doesn’t accept Mexican currency. Mexican currency is accepted at the bridge tolls manned by toll booth workers and accounts for 25 percent of revenue collect at the El Paso-Mexico bridges.
Byrd said El Paso’s economy relies on revenue generated from bridge tolls because it goes into the city’s general fund.
“Our economy is really dependent on Juarez, [Mexico], and particularly on the retail side, people coming over here, shopping and eating, and hanging out and spending the night in a hotel,” Byrd said. “Whatever parts of it that we control from the city side — whether it’s the way the bridges look or how you pay and how easy it is to pay — we really want to try our best to make that an easy system so you’re not digging into your pocket for a bunch of change.”
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