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A recent study by the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, concluded that border wait times are having a significant economic impact on our region and it is only going to get worse. The lost economic benefit to the San Diego/Baja California region in personal travel and freight movements exceeds $5.1 billion in lost output and 51,500 lost jobs in 2007.

Limited by only two border crossings in the San Diego area, San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, the region is in desperate need of a third border crossing.  The proposed Otay Mesa East-Otay II Port of Entry border crossing, which would be near the intersection of Highway 905 and the soon-to-be dedicated Highway 125 via a new Highway 11, the Otay II border crossing is envisioned as a smart border crossing using the latest technology and a FasTrak type approach to help guarantee quicker border crossing times.

The idea behind the plan is simple: goods movement is a critical factor for the commerce in the San Diego region especially with all the maquiladoras south of the border. Moving these goods from Mexico into the United States for distribution has been a big problem with border wait times at the Otay Mesa crossing sometimes in excess of eight hours. These border waits at Otay Mesa add to our air pollution problems not to mention the economic impacts as shown in the study. 

In March of this year, I met with officials from the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. in preparation of our trip to Mexico City in April. Our goal was to facilitate discussions with the Mexican government so we can expedite the important Otay II border crossing. In Mexico City the reception we received from officials at the top level of government in Mexico was warm and open. Mexico is poised and ready to work with their partners in the United States at SANDAG and Caltrans to make Otay II a reality.

In October of this year, I joined Mayor Jerry Sanders and other members of a delegation from the San Diego Chamber of Commerce to an adjunct trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with our federal counterparts to whom we dealt with in our trip to Mexico City.

In Washington, D.C., we met with officials from the Department of State, General Services Administration, Department of Commerce and Department of Transportation, Homeland Security and Border Protection and the White House.  The plan is to have the new Otay II border crossing open by 2012. The project is expected to receive the Presidential Permit in the first quarter of 2008 where that will give all stakeholders the green light to continue moving forward in establishing this new border crossing.

It is envisioned that this border crossing, unlike the free crossings at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, will be a FasTrak type of crossing where trucks and vehicles will pay a fee in order to help offset the costs of this facility and equipment.

This border crossing will not cost taxpayer dollars but instead will be funded entirely by user fees. Funding will come from the toll for the new Highway 11 and a fee for those trucks and commerce that need quicker access into the United States.

It is our hope that this crossing will have a 30-minute wait time for trucks, which is a vast reduction of the usual four to eight-hour wait at Otay Mesa.

Another area of interest in the realm of transportation at the border is providing pedestrian access to General Abelardo L. Rodriguez International Airport (Tijuana International Airport).  Currently being studied by the Airport Authority, we received a warm reception from the General Services Administration as well as the FAA when exploring the possibility of allowing Americans on the U.S. side of the border to be able to come to a parking lot at Otay Mesa, get out of their car, cross through U.S. screening process and then take a shuttle or bridge, which would take travelers directly to Rodriguez Airport.  The same would be true for people returning from Rodriguez Airport back into the United States.

The concept is to relieve the pressures felt at Lindbergh field and provide access to long-haul international flights that are currently flying out of Rodriguez. For example, Rodriguez currently enjoys a non-stop from Tijuana to Tokyo via Japan Airlines. This might be appealing to business travelers who want to reach the Far East without having to drive to Los Angeles. This idea is still in the conceptual stage but again demonstrates the tenacity to which we are working on addressing transportation issues along the border.

 I will continue working with Councilman Ben Hueso who represents the area on the City Council and also serves with me on the SANDAG Transportation Committee. There will certainly be more about this in the months ahead as we do what we can to reduce border wait times at the San Ysidro border as well as make improvements by building a new smart border crossing at Otay Mesa.

— JIM MADAFFER

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