On Nov. 14, 2007, the federal government pulled back the curtain and revealed its vision for the future of South County. It is one of long waits at the border, traffic at a dead stop for more than three miles and no regard for commuters, residents or businesses in San Ysidro or the adverse economic impact of long border delays. 

While the U.S. General Services Administration was revealing the planned improvements for the San Ysidro Port of Entry, south bound traffic on Interstate 5 was at a standstill, clogged past CA-905. The traffic congestion wasn’t due to customs and other law enforcement officials stopping all the cars headed south into Mexico. The problem was a result of the inadequate infrastructure that exists in both directions at all of our ports of entry.

The South County EDC has a different vision for the future of South County.  It includes infrastructure that can support necessary security measures at the border while allowing commerce and cultural exchange to co-exist. It includes ports of entry with more gates that are sufficiently staffed and the best technology available to ensure people and commerce flow between our two countries efficiently, without comprising safety.

Waiting two hours to cross from Mexico into the United States, with cars and trucks spewing exhaust into the air, is at best a waste of time and at worst an environmental hazard. We can eliminate this by thinking long term as we analyze the growth that is to occur in Tijuana and San Diego over the next 20 years. Our bi-national region is home to more than 3 million residents living in San Diego and 1.5 million living in Tijuana. By 2030, population forecasts place San Diego’s numbers at 3.9 million and Tijuana’s at 2.4 million with a combined total of 6.4 million people. We cannot accommodate our growth with the current infrastructure. We need to improve our existing ports of entry and begin the construction of new ones.

The San Ysidro Port of Entry is long overdue for improvements. As the busiest border crossing in the world, the use of technology would be a welcome addition. Plans are underway to secure more gates for north bound traffic by rerouting south bound traffic through the existing and currently unused Chapparal gate, adjacent to the Las Americas Premium Outlets. One must question why, with more than 41 million people and 17 million vehicles crossing into San Ysidro each year, we are not using these additional gates? The issue appears to be a lack of staffing, something easily remedied by hiring more agents!

We cannot overlook the need to have in place the appropriate infrastructure leading both to and from our ports of entry. The most effective and expedient way to do this is through the private sector with private investment. Otay II, the proposed port of entry to the east of the existing Otay Mesa crossing, is a prime example of what could occur with our border crossings. A toll road leading to and from the Otay II could offset the construction costs of the highway leading to this border crossing. Based on what we hear, a vast majority would be willing to pay for infrastructure that reduced the time of border crossing to 20 minutes.

While the federal government is to be applauded for the double stacking pilot project, allocating some funding for San Ysidro Port of Entry and their recent interest in Otay II, it is not enough. San Diego County needs a long term solution to this border mobility crisis. There is just no need to choose between security and commerce because we can have it all. But, the federal government must be willing to proactively plan and invest accordingly.

— CINDY GOMPPER-GRAVES

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