Texas-Mexico border traffic slows to a halt during travel restrictions

Paige Silva


International travel is just one of the many aspects of Texas’ border economy that has been hard-hit by COVID-19. The U.S., Mexico, and Canada agreed to limit all non-essential travel across borders beginning March 21, 2020. Table 1 includes certain non-essential and essential activities.

​These measures were originally set to expire after 30 days but have since been renewed multiple times with the latest extension to July 21, 2020. While the number of new COVID-19 cases in Canada is falling daily, the opposite is happening in the U.S. and Mexico. Furthermore, Mexico’s federal government has taken a weak stance against the spread of COVID-19 by ruling out mass testing and contact tracing. It is unlikely that the travel restrictions will be recalled any time soon.

Texas’ Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) along the border (Brownsville-Harlingen, El Paso, Laredo, and McAllen-Edinburg-Mission) rely on purchases of goods and services by Mexican nationals, which the travel restrictions prevent. By using border crossing data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, we can track monthly traffic from Mexico to U.S. ports. Pedestrian and personal vehicle numbers are good measures for estimating how retail sales in the border MSAs might be faring (see Tables 2-5). Figures 1 and 2 shows the trend-cycle component for each port’s measure of traffic. The Port of Hidalgo represents cross-border trade between Reynosa and McAllen. 



The data show that since travel restrictions were implemented in March, overall pedestrian and personal vehicle crossings have declined greatly along the border. We can expect to see levels remain low until non-essential travel restrictions are lifted. Even then, traffic may remain below February levels until the spread of COVID-19 is contained. (For additional commentary and statistics regarding Texas’ border economy, see Texas Border Economy).