The long-awaited Autopista Durango-Mazatlan, a 143-mile highway from the growing regions of west Mexico to Texas ports of entry, is expected to open before the New Year, and importers couldn’t be happier.

“We are absolutely looking forward to it,” said Ryan Wolverton, sales manager for Fresh Tex Produce LLC, Alamo, Texas.

“That’s going to give us product from the western coast of Mexico that normally would have to go to Nogales (Ariz.) or Tijuana (Mexico), because there is too much time involved with having to bring it all the way over to Texas,” he said. “It’s going to cut that time by almost 60%.”

The highway will affect the McAllen Produce Terminal Market and the entire surrounding area, said Carlos Zambito, the market’s general manager.

Many Nogales-based companies are opening branches in the area to handle product from west Mexico for shipment to the East Coast in the U.S., he said.

The highway can knock a day’s travel time off the trip and save $1,000 in freight costs, Zambito said.

John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association, said he anticipates a substantial increase in product coming through Texas in the next 12-18 months because of infrastructure improvements that will make it more feasible to bring fresh produce from western coast of Mexico to the east.

Victor Thomas Myers, vice president of Sunny Produce and Brokerage LLC in McAllen, is looking forward to lower freight costs.

“Any kind of direct route will make it cheaper for trucks to get here,” he said. “Cheaper freight is always good.”

Sometimes freight costs actually can keep a shipper out of a market, he said, and they can affect where a company sources its product.

Myers expects that anyone coming up from south Mexico will take advantage of the highway.

“It will open up a lot of options for a lot of people,” he said.

Nick Hurter, vice president of State St. Produce in San Antonio, said it’s hard to say whether the new highway will have an effect on that company.

More Nogales-based companies likely will ship out of McAllen, and that could mean more competition, he said.

The new route also will open up the Sinaloa growing area for Texas firms.

“It will make it easier for me to bring our products down,” said Marcelino Garza, president and chief executive officer for Mission-based Plantation Produce Co.

Garza said only about 15% of his product likely will be shipped over the highway, but the company will benefit because more shippers will send their product through the area.

Since Plantation produce offers in-and-out services as well as cold storage and public refrigeration, the company should benefit from the additional movement.

The new highway will help grower-shippers of all products grown in west Mexico, Wolverton said.

In the past, drivers had to take a convoluted route that included a six-hour drive over a treacherous pass running through The Devil’s Backbone.

The shining jewel of the project is the Baluarte Bridge outside of Durango.

“It is a massive bridge,” Wolverton said.

Tourists and Mexican nationals also will be able to move from one side of the country to the other faster, he said.

“(The bridge) makes it possible to get across two mountain ranges that have been formidable in the past,” McClung said.

“A map of the southern U.S. and Mexico will show that if you can get across Mexico west to east comfortably in an 18-wheeler, it is a shorter trip by about five hours from the Culiacan/Sinaloa area into the U.S.,” he said.

The website says the bridge “is not only the highest bridge in North America but the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world.”