It was a day that connected the United States and Mexico in more ways than one, as a groundbreaking to modernize and expand North America's busiest border crossing took place Thursday afternoon.
Governors, state senators, U.S. representatives, and mayors from California and Baja gathered at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to kick off the $577 million project.
When renovations are complete, this border crossing will have 10 more vehicle lanes for a total of 34 lanes, including bus lanes, and 62 inspection booths with a “stacked booth” design going northbound. In turn, the facility will grow from 8 to 50 acres.
“This project will transform this vital port of entry to not only meet the operational needs of the (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) to secure the border, but also to provide a much-needed improvement to the experience that visitors, families and friends have when they come to the U.S.,” said Thomas S. Winkowski, field operations assistant commissioner for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The project will be completed in three phases.
The first phase, of which the groundbreaking consisted, will involve vehicle improvements. It encompasses the northbound primary inspection lanes and booths; the northbound secondary inspection facilities; and three 100-foot iconic masts that will extend from a 780-foot canopy, which will cover lanes of traffic going into the United States.
The second phase will involve construction of the northbound walkways and building. This building will improve pedestrian inspection facilities with added inspection booths.
Also in this second phase, the existing historic customs’ house will be renovated and used for port of entry operations and southbound pedestrian facilities.
In addition, a new public plaza will be constructed along San Ysidro Boulevard, connecting both north and southbound pedestrians to the trolley and other public transportation.
The third phase will include moving Interstate 5 westward to provide increased space for northbound vehicle lanes, expand southbound inspection facilities and connect to Mexico’s border crossing facility, El Chaparral Land Point of Entry.
Also, the final canopy mast will be constructed during phase three, along with nine additional northbound lanes for a total of 34, and a second pedestrian crossing for northbound and southbound movement will be built.
Mexico is also improving its Port of Entry by adding six lanes for a total of 12, and modernizing its border crossing facilities, called El Chaparral.
The border crossing is being renovated to create a more efficient and sustainable port of entry, by reducing wait times with more lanes and the installation of several green amenities that will make the project the first LEED Platinum border crossing by the U.S. Green Building Council.
“This renovation will boost the local economy and cut wait times at the border,” said Martha N. Johnson, administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration, which heads the Port of Entry along with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “We will be investing in innovative green technologies that will make San Ysidro the first zero energy land port of entry.”
The new facility will have photovoltaic panels, a solar hot water system, a geothermal heat exchange system, ultra-low flow water fixture, landscaping with drought resistant plants and storm water capture for irrigation. It is estimated 12 million gallons of water will be saved per year.
According to the design team at Miller Hull Partnership, which created this new Port of Entry, wait time will go from two hours to half an hour. This is based on computer modeling using projected vehicle and pedestrian data from the San Diego Association of Governments. URS Corp. is the construction manager on this project
Funding for the modernization comes from the U.S federal budget. In 2004, $34 million was allocated;in 2008, $199 million was given; and in 2009, $59 million was approved.
So far enough money has been obtained to complete the project's first phase, but phases two and three are still waiting for funding.
Johnson said phase two is part of President Barack Obama’s budget next year, but it hasn’t been appropriated yet. Approximately $285 million is still needed.
“The president’s budget has money for border stations and in that we would trust (the San Ysidro Port of Entry) would be part of that,” said Johnson. “I think the president is quite committed to (this project). I think it's now a matter of congress to support his budget.”
If the project goes according to plan, the Port of Entry will be fully expanded, modernized and operational by summer 2016.