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Construction at US-Mexico border gets requested funding push

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The final phase of construction to improve traffic and security at the San Ysidro Port of Entry got the green light to move forward.

Big improvements to the busiest land port of entry in the world are back on track following the federal budget's inclusion of $226 million in funding for the San Ysidro border crossing.

Since early 2011, the General Services Administration has been working to reconfigure and expand that U.S.-Mexico border crossing, which, according to the GSA, processes an average of 50,000 northbound vehicles and 25,000 northbound pedestrians each day.

The three-phase project to improve security and traffic flow at the San Ysidro Port of Entry will realign and expand Interstate 5 to connect it to the Mexican inspection facility El Chaparral, which Mexico completed in November 2012. It is also planned to include an energy-efficient inspection canopy and accommodate expected regional growth, with the addition of inspection booths and a dedicated bus lane.

A lack of funding to complete the connector on the U.S. side has left people on both sides of the border waiting for more than the temporary connection that has been built to El Chaparral.

The January funding announcement came with the passage of the federal budget in Washington, D.C., allowing for Phase 3 of the project to move forward. GSA had already completed the planned pedestrian bridge, a southbound pedestrian crossing on the port's east side -- which replaced the old crossing on the west side -- and 46 of the planned 63 northbound inspection booths.

GSA Pacific Rim Regional Administrator Ruth Cox said the new funding would make construction of the approach into El Chaparral possible and free up land for the construction of the remaining inspection booths.

"Funding for GSA's capital projects is submitted as part of the president's budget request to the U.S. Congress every year," said Traci Madison, a regional spokeswoman for the GSA. "Given the budgetary environment of the past several years, GSA had not received any significant appropriations for construction of capital projects until the recently enacted omnibus bill.”

The $226 million appropriated in the federal budget for the project includes about $128 million in new funding and nearly $98 million in reassigned GSA funds. Total costs for the project when completed are estimated to be $732 million, up from the $577 million estimate at the start of construction three years ago.

Activity onsite now consists of items in Phase 1B of the project, including northbound privately owned vehicle processing improvements such as new lanes, stacked booths, a secondary inspection area canopy and a headhouse building.

The GSA also plans to build a steel canopy over the northbound lanes, which, at its completion, will be perhaps the most noticeable part of the project from a distance. It will include four 100‐foot masts extending from the 725‐foot canopy.

The connection to El Chaparral will come in Phase 3. A segment once part of Phase 3, now labeled Phase 1D -- the last subphase in Phase 1, was set in motion last year on the Ped West and Virginia Avenue Transit Facilities.

The GSA says it worked with existing resources to create the first new major pedestrian processing facility since the development of the port of entry in the 1970s.

The project will -- for the first time -- allow for the pick-up and drop-off of pedestrians, Madison said.

Phase 1B is expected to be completed this fall, with portions -- the headhouse and primary canopy -- set for an earlier completion in the summer. The Ped West Facility is scheduled for completion in fall 2015.

The middle phase of the project, which would bring new northbound pedestrian processing facilities on the eastern side of the port, remains unfunded. Phase 3, projected for a summer 2018 completion, can be done independently of those improvements, Madison said.

"The project enjoys strong support by a large number of stakeholders, including business leaders, community organizations and elected officials at various levels who have worked together to demonstrate the need for improvements," Madison said, relating the GSA's annual requests for funding to supporting the regional and national economies.

All three phases of the project were designed by The Miller Hull Partnership, and are aimed to receive LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. green Building Council. The general contractor for Phase 1B is Hensel Phelps Construction. Phase 1D has yet to be awarded.

Craig Curtis, a partner at Miller Hull, said in a statement that the project will set a new standard for land ports of entry. It will not only surpass GSA's sustainability goals, he said, but set a new standard for enhanced processing and increased security measures.

“Border crossing structures are meant to be the first impression of the country, and for the first‐time visitor, the experience should be uplifting and memorable," Curtis said.

The design, he added, was a combination of the good first impressions desired and the primary goal of serving the needs of border officers. Miller Hull, he said, worked with Customs and Border Protection to develop the new processing systems.

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