Truck explosion could affect Mexican produce movement for months

NOGALES, AZ -- A diesel tanker truck exploded along the Durango-Mazatlán Highway on the night of Jan. 13. The resulting fire seriously burned about 9,000 square feet of the highway leading from a tunnel to a high suspension bridge. This accident could disrupt the Mexican produce industry for months.

This $2.2 billion, four-year-old highway, Mexico Highway 40D, is a fast, safe connection between Mexico’s west coast produce production areas and south Texas.Sonoran-business-JournalsThe Sonoran Business Sensor on Jan. 15 posted this photo of a diesel tanker accident site on the Durango-Mazatlan highway. The Sensor indicated that 9,000 square feet of the highway – in both directions – were damaged on the cable-stayed bridge. This new highway is a fast route from Mazatlan to Reynosa, Mexico, bordering Pharr, TX. Photo courtesy of Sonoran Business Sensor.

Matt Mandel, the chief operating officer of SunFed, based in Rio Rico, AZ, said that Mexican truckers using 40D are doubly efficient because they can pull “double” trailers.

The scenic toll road, which opened in October 2013, features 115 bridges and 61 tunnels. Midway along the course is a 1,200-foot river gorge transited by the world’s highest cable-stayed bridge, Baluarte Bridge. The new thoroughfare, replaced a very dangerous, curling road in a rugged region known as The Devil’s Backbone.

At the Texas border, Highway 40D runs into Reynosa, Tamaulipas, and directly to the Pharr International Bridge.

Luis Bazan, executive director of the Pharr International Bridge, said Jan. 15 that he had little early information on the accident. “The good thing is they’ve identified an alternate route and it’s not the Baluarte Bridge that was damaged," he said. "Shipments making their journey from Sinaloa should have no issues making to their final destination if they take the alternate route.”

Tommy Wilkins, the director of sales and business development for Grow Farms Texas LLC in Donna, TX, estimated the detour will add six to eight hours to the otherwise-fast trip northeast across the interior of Mexico.

“No matter what, this will add to the transit time,” Mandel observed. “All of this makes the situation as a whole ‘no bueno.’” Depending on commodity and location “this will affect some growers more than others,” Mandel said. For example, that Michoacan avocados will very likely continue shipping to Texas, despite the added time.

Mandel said Nogales will probably receive more west Mexico product because of the highway disruption. A number of companies like SunFed have produce distribution in both the Nogales and McAllen shipping districts. Mandel said SunFed will continue shipping to McAllen but will likely ship more to Nogales than was originally anticipated.

Wilkins noted that the extra costs in shipping to south Texas exacerbate already-high transportation costs that are besieging the North American produce industry this winter. “This affects the cost coming into Texas. This is not what we all wanted here. This is a curve we didn’t plan on. This will be a problem until they assess the damage done. People I trust say” this will be “a challenge for the long term.”

The Sonoran Business Sensor reported that there may be an indefinite disruption of traffic on the ultra-modern highway.

Various Mexican news offered conflicting details, but photos showed the truck’s explosion occurred outside El Carrizo tunnel, which is a short distance from the massive Baluarte bridge.

Debate.com quoted the driver as saying he was carrying 9,000 gallons of diesel. The driver said he had a mechanical failure but he couldn’t remember how he lost control of the vehicle. The driver apparently walked away unscathed, which leads to an interesting dynamic on this story.

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