U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visits the Otay Mesa East border crossing on the San Diego border with Mexico

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visits the Otay Mesa East border crossing on the San Diego border with Mexico
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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the San Diego-Tijuana border Friday to promote the future port of entry at Otay Mesa East, which still needs about $568 million in funding as well as personnel from US Customs and Border Protection.

The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., shadowed inspection officials to better understand the process for examining large cargo trucks traveling to the United States from Mexico. Wearing a blue safety helmet and yellow vest, he slipped under one of the huge vehicles as workers kicked tires and shone flashlights at the train. landing.

The visit comes a month after regional transport officials signed a crucial agreement with Mexico on how to share future toll revenues at the new port of entry, which is expected to open by 2024. The revenues would be collected in the United States and distributed equally. , bringing about $3.4 billion to each country over the next four decades.

High-ranking local and state officials gathered at the project site on Friday to hear Buttigieg express his commitment to the long-planned $1.47 billion facility.

“We are here to talk about how we are building a strong, more resilient American economy and to celebrate a great example of that in this project that will create jobs and reduce costs for people here in San Diego County and around across the country,” he told the crowd, standing in a dirt field where State Route 11 ends and where the federal toll facility is to be built.

At the Otay Mesa East project site, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg (right) speaks with California State Transportation Agency Toks Omishakin Friday in San Diego.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Flanked by big yellow bulldozers, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, County Supervisors Nora Vargas and Nathan Fletcher, and National Transportation Agency Secretary Toks Omishakin listened intently. California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis also spoke at the event, noting that the project is not yet fully funded and that Congress has yet to approve funds for additional customs officers to operate Otay Mesa East. .

“As we celebrate and recognize your leadership, Secretary Buttigieg, in helping to build the customs facility,” she said, “we must also remember that we will need support, commitment and additional investment from the federal government to complete this project. .”

Still, the project made significant progress this year with the completion of the link highway system, which included work on State Routes 125, 905 and 11. Installation officially began in August and a month later secured crucial federal funding of $150 million.

Buttigieg seemed unsure that Congress would approve funding for the new customs officers needed to run the border crossing. However, several officials said they were convinced the issue had bipartisan appeal.

“This is an ongoing conversation…and we recognize that physical transport infrastructure is just one part of it,” he said. “We also know that every CBP officer can be more efficient and effective and have a better work experience when they have a better facility.”

Tens of thousands of people cross the San Diego-Tijuana border every day, from school children to hotel workers to truck drivers. Crossing the border can take hours during traffic jams, costing about $3.4 billion in economic output per year.

The new crossing aims to reduce those wait times while helping to boost Tijuana’s booming manufacturing and warehouse sectors. About 1.4 million trucks passed through California from Mexico in 2021, up from 1.1 million in 2006, according to the U.S. Transportation Bureau.

“I’m thinking about the math of what it means to reduce those hours here,” Buttigieg said Friday. “Less wasted time for truckers means more time at home with loved ones.”

U.s. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg And Transportation Undersecretary Polly Trottenberg

In San Diego on Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (left) and Transportation Undersecretary Polly Trottenberg (second from left) tour a CHP commercial vehicle screening facility.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Otay Mesa East will have 10 lanes in each direction for passenger cars and cargo trucks, and it will have room to grow. Its 120-acre site is larger than the combined footprint of the current border crossings at Otay Mesa and San Ysidro.

Average wait times at the new facility are expected to be five to 25 minutes for passenger vehicles and 15 to 45 minutes for freight traffic. Toll rates would fluctuate to discourage traffic. Signs would warn approaching motorists of crossing fees as well as wait times.

Business owners seem very optimistic about the project as well as the future of trade between the two countries. Freight movement through the current Otay Mesa port of entry generates $47 billion annually and could triple to $166 billion by 2050, according to a report by the San Diego Association of Governments.

Much of the manufacturing industry has recently been relocated from China to Mexico in a process called “nearshoring”. The main products transported from Mexico to California are electronics, agricultural products, cars and medical devices.

“Everyone realized that you can make a lot of money if you make (computer) chips in Mexico, if you make things like that, which we always get from China,” Eduardo said. Acosta, vice president of RL Jones Customhouse Brokers and member of the board of directors. of the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce, who attended the event on Friday. “We cannot put all our eggs in one basket.

While truck trade is booming, foot and passenger vehicle traffic is down sharply. Car crossings to California from Mexico have increased from nearly 34.3 million in 2006 to about 25.5 million in 2021, according to federal statistics. During the same period, the number of people crossing the border on foot fell from 15.5 million trips to 10.3 million.

Officials have speculated that tougher border inspection regimes could slow lines and discourage travel.

“I think what’s happening is the wait times. It’s not that appealing to take that second trip,” said Mario Orso, assistant district manager for Caltrans 11 in San Diego.

California Daily Newspapers

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