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José Díaz looked all around on Saturday. Where there normally would be lines of cars waiting to cross the border, there were only wide open spaces.
Beginning Friday, Mexico had opened five more lanes going north, and the United States had opened double-stacked inspection booths in most of its 25 northbound lanes as part of its $732 million effort to improve the San Ysidro border crossing.
These "weekend test period" measures caused border wait times to be dramatically reduced, but also meant that many vendors who relied on backed-up border lines for their sales were bypassed.
Díaz, 34, who sells fruit bowls from a cart, was one of those vendors. He estimated that the border wait around 11 a.m. was around 10 minutes, whereas it sometimes can be hourslong on weekends.
Photo: Where are my customers? Díaz is pictured where cars normally would be backed up at San Ysidro.
"Right now it is hard for us (vendors), but it's great for tourists," said Díaz, who had left his cart to walk up to the border crossing to see where the line, which normally snakes past his cart, ended. Despite missing out on sales on Saturday — much of the pineapple, mango, jicama, canteloupe, cucumber, and watermelon in his cart he normally would sell was going to go to waste — he was taking the long view. He said he hoped shorter border waits would bring more American tourists back to Tijuana, helping the border city's overall economy.
Photo: At 11 a.m. Saturday, some lines were only five cars long.
He said he hoped to see a return to the days when "you could make money like crazy" from tourism.
Díaz said he was originally from Tijuana but lived for years in Chicago, where he said he had married an American and worked in construction. He said he was now divorced, and his 13-year-old son was visiting.
Lines may lengthen back to where Díaz's cart is normally parked on Monday, as the United States will be closing lanes 2-9 to build a steel canopy. When that portion of the canopy is done in about a month, the next set of lanes will be closed, and when that part is finished, the canopy will be built over the next set of lanes. The General Services administration said, "The partial closure of lanes will continue throughout the duration of the project until fall of 2014." The 25 lanes in operation over the weekend were numbered 2-26.
Update, Aug. 19: KPBS radio reported at 7 a.m. that wait times at San Ysidro were 5 minutes. At 8 a.m., however, lanes 2-9 were to be closed so the canopy can be built.
Update, Aug. 22: KPBS radio reported around 6:30 a.m. that wait times at San Ysidro were 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Left photo: Where's the traffic? Traffic normally would be backed way past the curve, where José Díaz normally operates his fruit cart, but on Saturday it was wide-open spaces. The two lighter-colored lanes are the new northbound lanes carved out of land next to the former Puerta Mexico southbound crossing; Mexico opened its new El Chaparral crossing to the west last year. The General Services administration said, "These lanes will merge Mexico's new (five) northbound lanes into the existing inspection lanes and increase overall queuing capacity in the port's footprint, thereby reducing traffic in Tijuana streets."
Right photo: Double-stacked inspection booths can be seen. If inspections of vehicles both finish at around the same time, two cars can move forward at once, reducing wait times.
Wednesday's mention of upcoming changes, opening of pedestrian ready lane at San Ysidro.
2011: Overview of changes taking place at San Ysidro border crossing.
GSA webpage on the $732 million project.
Photo: Northbound (at right) and southbound (at left) pedestrians just south of the San Ysidro port of entry stand and walk Saturday morning in Tijuana. Farther left are the bus lanes and Sentri fast-pass lanes.
Mexico's new southbound pedestrian facility is scheduled to be finished in the fall.