The opening of four new commercial lanes at the Mariposa Land Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz., previously planned for January, is being pushed back to mid-March.

It will raise the number of lanes to eight.

“They’ve hit snags,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

“The hard part of what they’re doing is keeping operations open during construction. There are only certain windows the port is closed for off hours that some kinds of work can be done. Otherwise, trucks are moving through there.”

“It’s going to be more helpful for next year than this,” said Chuck Ciruli III, chief executive officer of Nogales, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. LLC.

The port has been under expansion since late 2009. Scheduled completion isn’t until 2014. Projected cost is up to $220 million, mostly in federal stimulus dollars. Federal authorities committed to increasing capacity before full build-out.

The port was built in the 1970s to handle about 400 trucks daily, but more than 1,400 pass through now during peak periods.

FPAA representatives went to Phoenix Feb. 1-2 to meet with Arizona legislators about staffing at the port.

“It will need an extra 300-500 people to run it effectively, and there are not enough people to do that,” Jungmeyer said.

“At the federal level, money’s tight,” he said.

“They’re working on a customs reauthorization bill. One thing we’d like to see come out of that is for customs to release their support staffing model, the ratio of people to trucks. We know they need more people and we want to advocate for exactly the right number. But until Homeland Security is willing to release the model, not having the proper staffing is hurting the economy and the importers.”

The importers want to be able to drop loads at warehouses and send a truck back for another turn. They’re getting fewer such turns than they want.

“You’d like to be through customs in a half hour to an hour,” Jungmeyer said.

“Now sometimes it might take eight hours. You can’t send the driver back to bring more up. The retailers have big distribution centers and they want ‘x’ amount of produce because next day they’re sending it out to their stores. It’s pretty amazing how tight the turn-around time needs to be, and delays impact jobs here.”