Impacts of 9/11 tragedy on the international border

Ed Drusina, P.E.
Public Works Director
City of El Paso, Texas
Member, APWA/AMMAC Task Force

Julio Fuentes
Senior Traffic Engineer
City of San Diego, California
Member, International Affairs Committee and APWA/AMMAC Task Force

The September 11 tragedy has had far-reaching effects for the international border crossings between Mexico and the United States, and its aftermath has resulted in long pedestrian and vehicle delays which have made an impact on the economies of both countries.

El Paso/Ciudad Juarez Region
The El Paso/Juarez region has always dealt with traffic congestion due to inspections conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Customs. After the September 11 tragedy, however, the bridge traffic congestion problem has been magnified by the security-related inspections. The long waiting times to cross the bridges have affected the international commerce of both cities and the sales by local businesses on both sides of the border.

At least one-third of the retail market and the majority of tourism in El Paso come from discretionary shoppers. The local merchants, especially those whose shops are situated downtown near the bridges, depend on the discretionary shoppers. However, immediately after 9/11, El Paso/Juarez area stores located near the bridges suffered an approximate 50 percent drop in sales. Currently, the drop in sales is approximately 20 percent. Most shoppers are unwilling to wait the long time periods to cross the border. Last year, bridge revenues from the international bridges owned by the City of El Paso generated $1 million per month. Bridge revenues dropped by $200,000 per month immediately following the efforts by the U.S. government to secure the border.

El Paso's location along the international border makes it an ideal place for U.S. companies to site their international operations in Mexico. The waiting times have made El Paso an increasingly unattractive city for commerce and trade. Other impacts of the increased border enforcement after September 11 and the economic recession have resulted in the loss of between 50,000-80,000 jobs along the El Paso/Juarez border, mostly from the maquiladora industry. El Paso has been made a less competitive community and a less desirable location, and this has had an adverse impact on our ability to lure businesses to the area in the future.

In an effort to offset the negative impacts of 9/11, the sister cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez are joining together to provide international rapid transit service between the two cities. Currently, El Paso and Ciudad Juarez have signed a letter of intent to establish a bus route within the next few months that will circle downtown El Paso and Juarez. Eventually, this route will be converted to an electric powered transit system (possibly a light or medium rail system) that will service the interiors of both cities. The International Mass Transit System will reduce the illegal and dangerous material crossings, reduce the number of vehicle crossings, and increase the level of security. It will also improve air quality and mitigate traffic congestion. In addition, it will have a positive economic impact by facilitating international travel, and the reduced delays will encourage increased consumer activity that will return to the levels prior to 9/11.

The City of El Paso is currently seeking renewal of a $43.7 million federal authorization and an appropriation for a fixed guide-way mass transit line between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. The City of El Paso has funded a $12 million starter light rail or bus transit line study. The plan has been presented to the Metropolitan Planning Office and has been issued approval as a project to be presented to the Federal Transit Administration. This effort still requires the approval from the federal agencies that have jurisdiction in this area. The City of El Paso is requesting assistance from the Office of Homeland Security in acquiring funds to support this project.

San Diego/Tijuana Region
The San Diego/Tijuana region has been afflicted from many of the same problems in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez. Daily commuters between Tijuana and San Diego have experienced increased delays since September 11, and trade and commerce in the region have suffered. Daily commuters have found creative alternatives for dealing with the delays, and a popular new way to bypass the long pedestrian and motor vehicle lines is the bicycle. A recent count showed that approximately 2,000 bicycles are crossing the border each day. The vast majority of these bicyclists ride the San Diego Trolley to various destinations after they cross the border.

The large number of bicycles crossing the border has created a number of challenges to federal, state and local officials, and there are coordinated efforts underway in order to facilitate and encourage the bicycle crossing. A special lane was designated by U.S. border officials for bicyclists to enter the United States. The State Department of Transportation has created a bike lane on southbound Interstate 5. As bicyclists cross the border, they encounter a series of obstacles such as sharing the road with a high volume of cars, motorcycles, and buses. Another problem is finding adequate parking for the bicycles. The City of San Diego is seeking grant funding to build parking facilities for the bikes.

Partnerships between federal, state, and local officials on both sides of the border are ultimately the key to keeping these communities safe and productive. Both of these border regions have made great efforts to cooperate in resolving issues and creating opportunities in the economic, health and environmental areas. In an effort to offset the negative impacts of 9/11, the coordination and cooperation between the cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, and San Diego and Tijuana, have substantially increased especially in public works-related projects. APWA and its Mexican partner, Asociación de Municipios de Mexico (AMMAC), are in the process of augmenting their involvement in providing solutions to the transportation and environmental problems shared by the U.S. and Mexico.

To reach Ed Drusina, call (915) 541-4202 or send e-mail to; to reach Julio Fuentes, call (619) 533-3092 or send e-mail to

APWA/SPWA collaboration remains strong

Dwayne Kalynchuk, P Eng
General Manager of Planning & Engineering Services
City of St. Albert
St. Albert, Alberta
Member, APWA Board of Directors and Chair, Finance Committee

The Slovak Republic was a part of Czechoslovakia until 1993. They were part of the USSR until the collapse of communism in 1989. It was determined after that date that a peaceful split of the country would occur with separate Czech and Slovak Republics. So, in 1993, for the first time since the 13th Century, the Slovaks became masters of their own destiny.

The Slovak Republic is populated with five million people and has its national capital in Bratislava, a city on the western edge of the country approximately 60 km east of Vienna, Austria.

During the communist rule, the state authorities handled the majority of government activities, including public works. With the collapse of communism, these activities were suddenly passed on to the jurisdiction of local governments. In the Slovak Republic there are about 2,850 towns and villages with the majority having less than 1,000 people. These municipal governments were ill prepared to handle this new responsibility and they had no previous experience or were provided with very little guidance to handle this.

This set the stage for the formation of a collaboration of communities facing similar challenges; thus, the Slovak Public Works Association (SPWA) was born in 1990. Today SPWA has 75 member companies, which include private and public owners, public works agencies, and various equipment suppliers. These members provide services to over 1,200 municipalities in the Slovak Republic. The Association's focus is the educational training of their members, and the participation in the process of developing legislation at the federal level, which has a direct impact on the municipal governments. These goals are very similar to the first two goals of the APWA Strategic Plan; the first goal being that APWA will be acknowledged as the public policy advocate for the public infrastructure, and the second goal that APWA will be the members' primary gateway resource for education knowledge exchange and services.

In addition to the above noted mandate, the SPWA presidium members (Board of Directors) have determined that external contacts and collaborations would greatly assist them in accomplishing their goals. Since the late 1990s they have made closer contacts with partner associations in neighbouring central European countries including Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. These countries, along with SPWA, have called themselves the Vishegrad Four (V4) based on an agreement between these nations, signed in 1994, in the Hungarian town of Vishegrad.

A seed was planted for the relationship with our association in 1998 when APWA Past President and former Chairman of the International Affairs Committee, Geoff Greenough, was requested by the International City Managers Association (ICMA) to assist them in the development of local government in Slovakia. He spent a week visiting various communities in Slovakia and attended SPWA's Spring General Assembly where he spoke to them about APWA and specific public works activities in North America. This initial visit has since developed to ongoing exchanges with SPWA representatives attending the Las Vegas, Louisville, and Philadelphia Congresses, and APWA representatives, including the author, attending the Spring General Assembly of SPWA in 2001 in the High Tatras. After this, delegate members also attended meetings of both the Polish and Czech Associations to further develop alliances with the V4 group.

This year in March I was privileged to once again represent APWA at the Spring General Assembly of SPWA in Sahy, Slovakia. Sahy is a community of approximately 8,500 people very near the Hungarian border and only 100 km north of Budapest. This gathering was the largest and most prestigious meeting held to date in this small scenic community. In addition to a representative from APWA, members from both the Hungarian and Polish Public Works Association also attended and spoke to the group. Other organizations within the country representing unions and municipal leaders have seen the benefit of SPWA and also attended the meeting.

In addition to the various presentations, an equipment show and demonstration of the latest technology was available to the 80 meeting delegates.

The Slovak Republic continues to evolve and, in only one year since the last General Assembly, statewide recycling has been implemented along with individual user fees. This has presented challenges for Slovak communities to develop acceptance by their residents and challenges for the public works agencies to deliver the service. The change methodology was identified and assisted through the knowledge gained by SPWA through their various educational programs and lessons learned from their Partners.

A strong collaboration continues between APWA and SPWA, and plans are being made for this September's Congress in Kansas City to once again greet members of the Slovak, Polish, Hungarian, and Czech Public Works Associations. A local committee in Kansas City is planning numerous activities including a "Get Acquainted" reception for international attendees, technical tours, and possibly two educational sessions on cultural diversity to better understand the cultures of our partnering countries.

To reach Dwayne Kalynchuk, call (780) 459-1653 or send e-mail to

International Facts/Proverbs

Hasta la vista!
After the pleasantries and handshakes, you can expect someone to ask you what you've seen so far in Mexico, or what you think of their country. Mexicans have enormous pride in their cultural heritage and like to find out how much you know about their country. Showing respect for the country's history and culture is a good start. Get to know your Mexican colleagues. Mexicans are looking for long-term relationships with individuals they can respect. Upon returning home, give them a call or send them a note. Stay in touch.

Punctuality Plus Prior to making the long trip to Australia for work purposes, take the time to get to know your contacts Down Under by fax or e-mail. The electronic age is alive and well in this part of the world. Remember that Aussies don't usually drop in for a business appointment (though they don't mind someone dropping in socially for a beer!). Best to call ahead for appointments first. Try not to arrive late for a business appointment while visiting New Zealand or Australia; even better if you can get to your meetings five or ten minutes early.

"Do not protect yourself by a fence, but rather by your friends." — Czech Proverb

"Don't shake the tree when the pears fall off by themselves." — Slovakian Proverb

Laraine Kaminsky, a cross-cultural communications consultant, will speak at the 2002 APWA Congress. She has ten tips for bridging the culture gap. Tip No. 1: Do your homework. Learn about the host country—its history, politics, people, and culture. Having this sort of background information will help you adapt accordingly. Try to visit countries before you do business with them. The more exposure you have to their culture, the greater your understanding will be.