By Patricia Giovine
EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) - Construction began Wednesday on a new six-lane, $100-million border crossing east of El Paso, which aims to boost security and cut lengthy delays over the Texas-Mexico border.
Federal and local officials held a ceremony to mark construction of the Tornillo-Guadalupe port of entry, some 30 miles east of El Paso, which will be able to handle both trucks and noncommercial traffic.
The three-phase project, scheduled for completion in mid 2013, will replace the nearby Fabens-Caseta International Bridge, which has struggled to cope with growing traffic volumes from Mexico.
"It is exciting to see this new port of entry take shape after more than a decade's worth of effort," said U.S. Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat and former Border Patrol sector chief.
"There were many hurdles that we had to overcome to bring this new bridge here, but I'm proud to see it get underway. It's coming at a critical time for our community and will boost our region's economy," he added.
Mexico is the United States' second biggest trading partner after Canada, with bilateral trade worth around $1 billion a day.
Ana Hinojosa, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency's local director of field of operations, said the new port should help ease crossing times at other crossings into El Paso, where travelers frequently have to wait for two hours or more at peak times.
"The port will help the area economy grow while also speeding the crossing times at the El Paso ports as some trade and travel moves east to use this new crossing," she said.
As well as providing additional crossing lanes, new roadways from the port will connect to nearby Interstate 10 to provide a more direct route for border traffic, authorities said.
Mexican authorities are to build additional roads connecting to the port south of the border.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Jerry Norton)