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General Services Administration official Ramón Riesgo said Wednesday that the United States may try to speed up construction of a permanent I-5 connection to Mexico's new El Chaparral port of entry in Tijuana. He indicated during a talk to the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce that the connection could be finished in 2014 instead of 2016, and perhaps even as early as late 2013, if funding comes through this year. Mexico plans to open El Chaparral in November, even though there is no direct connection to it from the United States.
Riesgo reiterated what GSA Senior Asset Manager Anthony Kleppe told the San Diego Regional Association of Governments on Friday, that the GSA is looking into building a temporary curve toward El Chaparral that could be finished toward the middle of next year if approved by Congress.
Riesgo, southern border project director for GSA, said he did not know how Mexico would connect traffic to El Chaparral in the interim. "There will be a crossing into Mexico," he said. "It's going to be the curve one, in some fashion, with a combination of an interim connection to El Chaparral." Riesgo said U.S. Ambassador Anthony Wayne "is negotiating that with Mexico." Kleppe had said Friday (May 25) that the GSA is likely to seek to build a southbound pedestrian crossing and traffic roundabout at Virginia Avenue to El Chaparral because the proposed curve would eliminate the current southbound pedestrian border crossing just to the west of I-5. It easily could be that when El Chaparral formally opens before President Felipe Calderón leaves office in December, there will at least be a symbolic opening of Virginia Avenue at El Chaparral to allow traffic to flow from the U.S. into Mexico. The above concept shows the curve that might be built from I-5 toward El Chaparral: The yellow part of the curve represents U.S. territory, and the pink Mexican territory.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry's plan to close the current Puerta México port of entry at the end of I-5 and send traffic via a jury-rigged connection has caused consternation on both sides of the border, as business interests and others fear the switch could cause traffic tie-ups that would curtail Americans' visits to Mexico. Earlier this month, Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán and the Mexican transportation minister announced an agreement that Puerta México would not be closed. On Wednesday, Osuna Millán, in the company of Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante, repeated that Puerta México would continue to function. "Both are going to be used, El Chaparral and Puerta México, until the United States completes its connection to El Chaparral ... as it should," the governor said during a media conference excerpted on Televisa's Notivisa news program.
Riesgo said as soon as the GSA gets funding for the permanent I-5 connection, it could take a year
to a year and a half to build it. The funding would depend on what he called a White House strategy to free up money for border projects next fiscal year. Riesgo indicated that a possible start date could be Oct. 1, the first day of the federal fiscal year, if project bidding gets done ahead of when GSA would have appropriations money in its hands. "Once we have the right of way, ... we can actually be working 24 hours a day," he said. That could get the project done in 2014, or late 2013, well ahead of the planned 2016 completion date.
The permanent I-5 connection to El Chaparral is part of Phase 3 of the project, but Riesgo said there is no reason Phase 2 and Phase 3 cannot be done concurrently, or for Phase 3 to be completed before Phase 2.
Riesgo said the money for the temporary curve to connect toward El Chaparral would come from appropriations for Phase 1 of the project such as property acquisition. He said the GSA is in negotiations with the UETA duty-free shop, whose building will be torn down to make way for the permanent interstate connection.
He also said that under the new northbound configuration currently under construction, there may be SENTRI lanes on the west side of the port as well as the east side.
As far as special lanes for bicyclists, he said the port is being configured so that could happen, but that that decision will be up to the manager of the port, not GSA.
Update, June 9: Foreign Ministry official tells U-T San Diego that Puerta México will close when El Chaparral opens.
Last week's story on GSA presentation to Sandag.
Previous analysis of the problems the new border crossing may pose.
San Ysidro Smart Border Coalition seeks new pedestrian crossing, roundabout at Virginia Avenue.
Story on new eastern pedestrian crossing.
Baja California governor, federal transportation minister say Puerta México will not close in October when new El Chaparral port of entry opens