A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.
By David Gaddis Smith
The new U.S. southbound pedestrian crossing to Tijuana to the east of Interstate 5 at the San Ysidro port of entry will make it easier for Mexico to send vehicle traffic to its El Chaparral port of entry under construction a few blocks to the west. The General Services Administration says the pedestrian crossing is scheduled to be completed this summer, and should make life a lot easier for border crossers who get off the trolley, which is on the east side of I-5. Mexico is planning a three-story building with 11 pedestrian gates on its side of the crossing.
The Mexican government hopes to open El Chaparral in the fall, even though the United States does not plan to have I-5 re-routed to meet up with the new port of entry until 2016. For Mexico to get vehicle traffic to El Chaparral in any major way, it likely would have to close or dramatically alter the existing pedestrian crossing to the west of I-5, because vehicle traffic would have to cross over the sidewalk pedestrians currently walk on.
Mexico's plans to reroute traffic to El Chaparral in a jury-rigged way and close the existing Puerta Mexico entry have caused major consternation in the Tijuana business community, which fears they may cause a major bottleneck and curtail customers' trips across the border. Southbound traffic already will back up at evening rush hour and certain other times. Previous analysis of matter: President Calderón wants new port finished and connected before he leaves office Dec. 1.
Not having I-5 rerouted until 2016 leaves Mexico with two major possibilities to get vehicle traffic to El Chaparral this year: Route traffic from the terminus of I-5 along service roads that Mexico and the United States use just south and just north of the border fence, with the option of also getting the United States to allow some traffic to get to El Chaparral from Virginia Avenue in San Ysidro. Using Virginia Avenue undoubtedly would have a major negative impact on traffic going to and from Las Americas Premium Outlets next door.
Although Mexico said last month that the United States had rejected allowing the use of Virginia Avenue or its border service road, talks between the nations were continuing.
Currently, I-5 has six lanes going into Puerta Mexico. Mexico claims it could get five lanes out of the service road area it has just south of the border fence and just north of a wall along Avenida Internacional. If so, they likely would be quite narrow. If the United States does not help reroute traffic in any way, Mexico would have to tear down its National Migration Institute building that pedestrians now walk by once they cross the border, said Sean Carlos Cázares Ahearne, deputy director general for border affairs for the Mexican Foreign Ministry to get traffic to El Chaparral. In addition, a smaller building used by Grupo Beta would probably also have to be demolished. Doing this would mean that there would be a sharp right turn off I-5; studies have show that hard right turns considerably slow traffic.
U.S. Consul Steven Kashkett was quoted in the Tijuana media last month as saying he thought a solution could be arrived at. This could mean that the United States would use some of the land just north of the border to make the right turn a little more smooth, and avoid having to tear down the government building or buildings.
In left photo, the National Migration Institute (seen just south of the border fence) might have to be torn down to make way for traffic that would be rerouted from the end of Interstate-5 to the new El Chaparral port of entry to the west. In front of the building is a U.S.-Mexico boundary marker.
This area in the United States just north of Mexico's National Migration Institute building could be used to help send traffic to El Chaparral and eliminate a hard right turn off I-5 toward the new border crossing. Left photo shows service road used by U.S. Border Patrol.
The Virginia Avenue gate to El Chaparral. When El Chaparral opens, visitors passing through it will be greeted by images of a giant Mexican flag and the Tijuana arch.
This Google Earth map is a little out of date, but shows the basic parameters. This map has been altered to put the border in the right place; Google Earth had the border (seen as a faint purple) south of where it actually is. One plan to move vehicle traffic to El Chaparral would entail tearing down Mexico's National Migration Institute (INM) and Grupo Beta buildings. The southbound pedestrian crossing to the west of I-5 might have to be closed to allow vehicle traffic to get to El Chaparral, but a new southbound pedestrian crossing to the east of I-5 is scheduled to open this summer.
• Mexico is planning a three-story building with 11 pedestrian gates on its side of the new pedestrian border crossing. Story, El Mexicano (PDF). Jump.
April 5: U.S. Rep. and San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner talks about how Mexico is ahead of U.S. on border port infrastructure. Story, El Mexicano (PDF). Jump.
March 31: National Action Party Deputy Francisco "Kiko" Vega warns that closing Puerta Mexico could cause major traffic delays. Vega is the former Tijuana mayor responsible for the city's arch and hopes to run for Baja California governor next year. Story, Frontera (PDF).
April 3: Official says, rather ingenously, that Puerta Mexico won't be closing, it will just be moving 300 meters to the west! Story, El Mexicano (PDF). Jump. Last month, another federal official said Puerta Mexico won't be closing, it will just be changing direction (to the north)! (That is not scheduled to occur until around 2016, however).
April 13: San Ysidro Smart Border Coalition recommends that new pedestrian crossing be built immediately at El Chaparral port of entry because new southbound crossing will not have the capacity to handle the current pedestrian traffic.
April 23: Colegio de la Frontera Norte study warns against closing Puerta México when opening El Chaparral.
April 25: Tijuana officials travel to Mexico City to make case on not closing Puerta México.
Editor's note: It is hoped that the GSA's Las Vegas convention scandal will have no effect on its ability to make quick decisions on the San Ysidro port of entry project.