Border fences, roads and lighting are not only expensive to build, they are costly to repair and maintain.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has signed a $24.4 million contract with a private firm to repair and maintain border barriers, roads, lighting and electrical systems along Arizona's border with Mexico, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office said last week.

The contract is the largest of four regionally based contracts that Customs and Border Protection issued to maintain fences and roads, said CBP spokeswoman Jenny Burke.

It is a one-year contract for $7.7 million with two additional one-year options for a total of $24.4 million, she said.

The contact - awarded to Houston-based Kellog Brown & Root - includes repairs and maintenance of five areas:

• Fences and gates.

• Roads and bridges.

• Lighting and electrical systems.

• Drainage and grates.

• Vegetation control and debris removal.

Giffords' chief of staff, Pia Carusone, applauded the contract, noting that it's essential that border infrastructure be properly and fully maintained.

Customs and Border Protection spends an estimated $97 million annually on this work along the border, Burke said. The 20-year life-cycle costs of maintaining the fences, roads and lighting are estimated at about $6.5 billion, the Government Accountability Office reported in 2009.

The federal government spent $2.4 billion to build 264 miles of pedestrian fencing and 226 miles of vehicle barriers from 2004 to 2009, the GAO found. Today, there are a total of 350 miles of pedestrian fences and 299 miles of vehicle barriers along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

More than four-fifths of Arizona's 378 miles on the border have some type of barrier. There are 123 miles of pedestrian fences, 12- to 25-foot-high barriers designed to stop, or at least slow down, people. There are another 183 miles of vehicle barriers, waist- to chest-high barricades designed to stop cars.

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It cost between $2.6 million and $7.4 million per mile to build the new barriers in Arizona. The most recent project, replacing 2.8 miles of old fence in Nogales, cost $4.14 million per mile.

Customs and Border Protection officials acknowledge that fences are not a panacea, but say they help deter, slow and funnel traffic.

The impact of barriers on illegal immigration and drug smuggling is unknown because it has not been measured, according to a September 2009 GAO report.

The buildup of fences and roads along the border could have environmental consequences, too. Fencing has caused flooding and erosion, and it could be fragmenting wildlife habitat.

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Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or