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South of the border, down Mexico way

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Last week I drove from Palomas, the Mexican town opposite Columbus, all the way west to Agua Prieta, the twin to Douglas in Arizona. The highway first swings south to skirt the Bootheel and then strikes back north to within a few miles of the border, where it claws its way up the northernmost slopes of the formidable Sierra Madre.
Two narrow lanes squeezed between sheer cliffs and precipitous canyons, the road climbs a half mile in fewer than 10.
There are neither shoulders nor guard-rails; only the little roadside shrines warn of the perils beyond the next hairpin turn.
The blacktop is battered daily by the passage of hundreds of heavy trucks, some of them pulling double trailers up the steep grades. Bad as it is, this is one of just two highways over the mountains for hundreds of miles to the south.
At the top of the pass you cross the Continental Divide at 6,500 feet. From there you can look down and see the black line of the border fence running ruler straight across the plain far below.
The drive back from Douglas on the American side is a cruise-controlled siesta compared to the crossing from Chihuahua to Sonora. On NM 9 you follow the old railroad bed for mile after mile of gentle curves and long, level straightaways.
The grade is scarcely noticeable when you crest the Continental Divide near Hachita. The contrast with the hair-raising Mexican highway adventure to the south reminds us why we offered our neighbors the kind of deal you can’t refuse for the Gadsden Purchase.
A few miles north of Hachita the Southern Pacific main line and Interstate 10 link the Pacific coast with the American heartland.
That transcontinental connection has been worth far more to us than the $10 million (about $300 million in today’s dollars) we paid Mexico in 1853.
We could share the economic advantage by giving Mexico more access to that traffic corridor. Easing border restrictions to allow Mexican freight to move more efficiently from coast to coast would benefit not just Chihuahua and Sonora but New Mexico too.
Our three border crossings are a tremendous asset to our local economy and have the potential to make an even greater contribution if growth continues on its present trajectory.
“Sixteen years ago we were exporting $1 billion annually through the Santa Teresa Port of Entry,” said William “Bill” Mattiace, executive director of the New Mexico Border Authority. “Now we’re doing $1.3 billion a month.”
The port at Columbus-Palomas has seen comparable increases. Over the past decade we’ve invested about $50 million in federal, state and private money to support expanded cross-border traffic.
Even lonely Antelope Wells at the very bottom of the Bootheel would experience a boost if the Mexicans could finish paving the last few miles of the road south from there to Route 2. The money and the cement would be better spent there than poured into President Trump’s proposed border wall. In fact, if all the resources to be expended on that “beautiful” barrier were instead invested in Mexico’s highway system both our countries would benefit enormously.
Economic development is not a zero-sum game. By one estimate every three jobs added in Mexico creates one new job in the United States. Encouraging cross-border trade will do far more to boost the prosperity of both nations than erecting a paper wall of tariffs in a misguided effort to save jobs here.