OTAY MESA — The region’s third border crossing is reaching milestones as the $1.1 billion Otay Mesa East Port of Entry moves forward.
Officials with San Diego Association of Governments, along with staff and representatives from Caltrans and the Mexican government, provided an update to the SANDAG board during an April 8 site visit.
Hasan Ihkrata, executive director of SANDAG, said the entry will be the most sophisticated and technologically advanced crossing in the country upon completion.
The crossing is a priority for both the Mexican and American governments as a way to offload border traffic from border crossings at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, which experience waits up to five hours, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and enhances regional mobility.
The port of entry site is 120 acres and will also house law enforcement for security, officials said.
“The wait will be cut significantly from hours to 20 to 30 minutes,” Ihkrata said. “This (project model) could be used in Texas and Arizona.”
Gustavo Dallarda, District 11 director for Caltrans, said the crossing will include tolls for those willing to pay to expedite their crossing. Both Dallarda and Ihkrata said the goal is to reduce the wait time to 20 to 30 minutes for the new entry point.
Caltrans and SANDAG are continuing lobbying efforts with the U.S. government for the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget to help fund the final phases of the project. Ihkrata said 50% of funding comes from federal sources, 40% from the state and 10% from SANDAG.
To date, about $600 million have been spent on the project.
The new entry from the U.S. side will feature a 10-lane highway on the near-complete state Route 11, which connects to SR 905 with access points to Interstates 5 and 15. One lane will be dedicated to commercial trucks, the other four for passenger vehicles depending on the time of time and demand, said Maria Rodriguez, project development program manager for SANDAG.
Dynamic pricing will be installed and features a baseline bottom price with no cap. The pricing will be determined on demand of the port, officials said, revenue will be a 50-50 split with Mexico and with at least a 10-to-one return on the investment, Rodriguez said.
It’s similar to I-15, which has a cap on its pricing for toll lanes, although Lemon Grove Councilman Jack Shu said he hopes to remove the I-15 cap in the future.
Regardless, Rodriguez said the project is moving in phases with the next focusing on the completion of SR 11, along with grading and foundation work for facilities and the crossing.
“We hope to reduce the wait times by 40% at the other two border crossings,” Rodriguez said. “We will also have appointment systems for trucks, charging stations and solar panels.”
Natalia Figueroa, the Mexican consul for political and economic affairs, said the new crossing will also aid in social aspects, along with increases in demand for trade and freight traffic. According to SANDAG, in 2019 the value of trade between the two countries was $614.5 billion, with $48.3 billion crossing at Otay Mesa and Tecate ports of entry.
Otay Mesa also ranks second in truck crossing volume and 74% of all trade with trucks moves through that border crossing. The county’s ports of entry are also the busiest in the Western Hemisphere with 112 million crossings in 2019.
“This is a top priority for us at the Mexican government,” she added. “We have been working on this since 1998.”
The new port of entry is also a key component of SANDAG’s proposed $172 billion regional transportation plan, which consists mostly of investments for transit, flexible fleets and mobility hubs to move residents across the county.