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By David Gaddis Smith, MexicoPerspective
A General Services Administration official said Friday he expects southbound rush-hour border waits to only be about a minute when Mexico's new El Chaparral port of entry opens in November.
Many have feared much longer waits, and a Mexican official said last month that maximum waits of 29 minutes were expected — half the time southbound travelers sometimes have to wait now.
Anthony Kleppe, senior assets manager for the GSA, spoke before conducting a tour of the new $7.3 million southbound pedestrian crossing that will open to the east of Interstate 5 Monday. The current southbound pedestrian crossing to the west of I-5 will be closed Thursday (Sept. 27) so that a five-lane temporary connecting road can be finished between El Chaparral and the end of I-5. That connector will include a relatively sharp curve that Kleppe said was engineered for 15 mph.
Photo: The new entrance to Tijuana from the pedestrian crossing that opens Monday (Sept. 24).
Some have feared that slowdowns caused by the curve, and reducing the number of I-5 lanes from six to five, would cause long delays for southbound traffic. One of the lanes will be for buses.
The permanent connection from I-5 is not expected to be finished until 2016.
The GSA official said his crossing time and other figures came from a study that is still being worked on. He called the connections being made at the border part of an "eight-month partnership and collaboration" with Mexico.
He said the wait at peak times could be greater when Mexico does not have all of its lanes open for traffic or when the United States is stopping southbound traffic for inspections. The five lanes moving along the temporary roadway between the border fence and a cinderblock wall south of the border fence will fan out to up to 22 gates once traffic arrives at the El Chaparral facility several hundred yards west of the interstate and just east of the Tijuana River.
Update: Kleppe's prediction of a one-minute wait has largely proven to be accurate. The wait time has been longer at rush hour and on weekends, and the first Friday, Nov. 2, Day of the Dead, brought long waits. Wait times also have depended on how many Mexican inspectors there have been and what percentage of vehicles they inspect; they seem to have been inspecting many more vehicles than before.
To see a larger version of the fact sheet, go to http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/104872.
Kleppe said a second southbound and northbound pedestrian crossing also is planned where El Chaparral meets Virginia Avenue in San Ysidro. That crossing is not expected to open until April 2015, however.
Meantime, pedestrians will now be crossing on the east side of I-5 just south of the trolley station and to the east of the Old Customs House. The walkway to the border has a grade of 3%, which will cause some difficulty for some people in wheelchairs and others, but it is below the allowable 8%, Kleppe said. He called the 3% grade better than having to negotiate the switchbacks on the pedestrian bridge across I-5 that trolley users have been using to get to the current pedestrian border crossing.
Right photo: Members of the media getting a preview of the new pedestrian walkway east of I-5 walk uphill toward the new crossing Friday. The Old Customs House is on the right.
The new pedestrian crossing has the words "Mexico" and turnstiles into Mexico, in addition to a door that normally will be locked. The turnstiles did not have the clanging bars that the turnstiles at the current crossing have. The GSA said it will have them, though.
Another U.S. official said that Mexicans who are being deported and repatriated at the Otay Mesa port of entry will be crossed at El Chaparral beginning Nov. 5. Until this summer, repatriations took place at the long-used pedestrian crossing to the west of I-5.
After crossing south into Mexico through the turnstiles at the new crossing east of I-5, pedestrians will walk westward on this ramp. The pedestrian traffic apparently then will intersect with the line of northbound pedestrians headed to cross the border into the U.S.
Photo at left: Kleppe (center) stands Friday under a fake owl intended to scare pigeons away from a light array on the new pedestrian walkway east of I-5 that opens Sept. 24. In front of Kleppe is a water fountain.
Center photo: Pedestrians walk Friday toward the turnstiles at the San Ysidro pedestrian border crossing west of I-5 that closes Sept. 27.
Right photo: A pedestrian walks Friday toward the crossing to the west of I-5 that closes Thursday, Sept. 27. Southbound Interstate 5 traffic is to his left. Photo is taken from the pedestrian bridge over I-5.
An armed Mexican soldier stands guard Friday on a pedestrian walkway at Mexico's soon-to-open El Chaparral port of entry facility. The photo was taken from the U.S. side near Virginia Avenue. The fence divides the two countries. The U.S. does not plan to have its pedestrian border crossing at Virginia Avenue ready until 2015; the permanent U.S. connection of Interstate 5 to El Chaparral is not scheduled to be finished until 2016. The gray concrete structure to the left of the guard (and in front of the blue) has a ramp with hairpin turns that pedestrians will be using.
In below phot, another view of the pedestrian ramp as seen from the Tijuana River side of El Chaparral. Pedestrians will be walking on an elevated walkway, from which they may get a view of downtown Tijuana, in addition to all the homeless people who live on the banks on the river.
Part of the view pedestrians may get when El Chaparral's pedestrian facilities open could be this one of the Tijuana arch and of homeless people along the Tijuana River.
September: Old western pedestrian crossing closes at San Ysidro.
September: New eastern pedestrian crossing opens at San Ysidro.
September: Governor says as many gates will be opened as necessary to keep southbound border traffic flowing.
September: New connecting lanes to be 10-feet wide.
August: Deportees now being crossed at Otay Mesa port of entry.
July: Tax Administration Service spokesman says El Chaparral to be ready for business in October.
June: Foreign Ministry official tells U-T San Diego that Puerta México will close when El Chaparral opens.
May: GSA presentation to San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.
May: GSA presentation to Sandag.
May: Baja California governor, federal transportation minister say Puerta México will not close in October when new El Chaparral port of entry opens
April: San Ysidro Smart Border Coalition seeks new pedestrian crossing, roundabout at Virginia Avenue.
April: Story on new eastern pedestrian crossing.
March: Analysis of the problems the new border crossing may pose.