COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | AMBER MAUER

Coming soon: border crossing of the future

An astonishing 102,000 people cross the Mexican border at San Ysidro each day. Wait times averaging 90 minutes, and as long as three hours, have a direct correlation to San Diego’s economy, including lost productivity in the border region. The situation is only going to get worse. A study conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments projects an 87 percent increase in vehicle traffic in San Ysidro by the year 2030.

The new San Ysidro Land Port of Entry is designed to be the port of the future, not only operationally, but also in terms of high-performance buildings. Now under construction is the first of three phases, with project goals to modernize outdated infrastructure for enhanced security and to reduce processing and wait times at the busiest border crossing in the world.

Responding to President Barack Obama's mandate for the U.S. General Services Administration to set the bar for green buildings in the U.S., all phases of the project are targeted to achieve LEED Platinum certification due to energy efficiency and water conservation strategies. Notably, the border crossing has the potential to be the first 24/7/365 facility in the U.S. to achieve net-zero energy in all occupied spaces.

The redevelopment project improves operational efficiency, security and safety for cross-border travelers and federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

On target to reduce wait times to 30 minutes, the completed project will accommodate 34 lanes of traffic — each with two stacked inspection booths, a 200,000-square-foot administrative and operations facility, 110,000 square feet of primary and secondary vehicle inspection canopies, north and southbound connections to a new planned border facility in Mexico, employee parking for 600 vehicles and ancillary government buildings.

Four 100-foot iconic masts will extend from a 780-foot “pillow” canopy, covering lanes of traffic going into the United States. These masts include security cameras and lighting, and will pump fresh air into the inspection booths below the canopy.

Both primary and secondary canopies are composed of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, which allows for rain and sun protection for officers in booths and, given its translucent nature, eliminates the need for artificial lighting during the day.

Sustainable water management strategies include a 400,000-gallon rainwater reclamation system that incorporates filtration and infiltration into the landscape, while specifying native plants that require low-water use and maintenance and low-flow fixtures and controls. The proposed design reduces water consumption by more than 28 million gallons per year, with the goal of water neutrality within reach.

Photovoltaic panels and a closed-loop, ground-coupled geo-exchange system offset port energy use. Because the primary booths will have the highest energy use in the complex, the design team worked to reduce energy use and increase officer comfort by using radiant heating and cooling panels as part of the booth HVAC system. Operational sustainability also benefits from intelligent traffic flow that decreases automobile idle time, resulting in reduced “tailpipe carbon.”

The design direction was guided by practical considerations, emphasizing safety and security, operational efficiency and high-performance energy goals in a harsh environment.

As a major entrance into the United States from Mexico, the border crossing elegantly meets functional requirements in a setting that is secure, yet open, and is welcoming and comfortable for travelers.

The facility provides a calming, organized presence in the midst of potential chaos, tension and movement associated with the staggering scope and scale of this border crossing. The port exemplifies the overall aim for government buildings to express the values, openness and spirit of democracy.

As a border-crossing facility contributes to the first impression of a country, artwork will be incorporated into the structures and throughout the campus to provide a welcoming and engaging experience for both first-time and repeat travelers.

“The need to improve the experience of the traveler is just as important as officer/traveler safety,” said Norm Strong, FAIA, and a partner in The Miller Hull Partnership, architects of the project. “The use of color, light and space allows for a vast improvement of the present condition.”

Two artists have been retained to enhance vehicle and pedestrian corridors at the border crossing. Themes to be conveyed relate to safety, connection, transition, order and journey.

Conceptual and structural in form, which includes an interactive light installation responding to border traffic, artwork leverages an interplay with structures and nature, and takes cues from iconic American symbols while remaining open to interpretation and discovery.

The new crossing is set to open at the end of 2014 and is eagerly awaited by residents on both sides of the border.

Mauer is the business development director of The Miller Hull Partnership LLP, based in the firm’s San Diego office. Mauer is also the director of special events for CREW San Diego.

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