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The new Ready Lane at the Otay Mesa port of entry is working far better than expected, and eight lanes will be closed at the San Ysidro port of entry for six months starting in November, the director of the Otay Mesa port said this week.
Bruce Ward, the assistant director of the Otay Mesa port of entry, also said fees for the SENTRI fast-lane program could fall to $100 and said the new SENTRI office at San Ysidro is processing far more applications than expected.
"Due to port construction at the San Ysidro port of entry, in November of this year eight vehicle lanes will be closed for approximately six months," Ward (left) said Tuesday at a San Diego Association of Governments' (SANDAG) conference on enhancing transit and non-motorized mobility.
Story on the rest of the conference.
Ward said that in order to mitigate the closure of the eight lanes, "Vehicle lanes 3-16 will have double-stacked booths and we plan on having them open all the time."
He added, "Traffic modeling programs have indicated that this should compensate for the loss of lanes. The lines will appear longer in Tijuana, but the lines will be faster."
Update, Aug. 11: More Ready lanes go into operation.
Ward said the new Ready Lane at Otay Mesa, designated for drivers with documents with RFID chips in them "like the new border crossing card, the new U.S. citizen card, and the new resident alien cards," has been a success since opening May 2. The chips mean that the document holder's information "pops up on the screen, the officer doesn't have to do any manual input, so it makes the inspection about 20 seconds faster."
Ward said the ready lane is moving about 20 minutes faster than regular lanes. The driver also can carry passengers if they have accepted RFID documents.
"In my wildest dreams I was hoping to get maybe 25% of the traffic using it within a year's time. Well, last week, five weeks after we opened it, we had 32% of all the vehicle traffic at the Otay Mesa port of entry crossing through the ready lanes. When you combine that with SENTRI, in a very few number of lanes, I have 56% of the traffic crossing in those lanes."
Ward said he hoped to add two more ready lanes, if it can be worked out with Mexican authorities. The Ready Lane was opened with the cooperation with Tijuana officials. "I couldn't be happier with the help I have received from the city of Tijuana," Ward said.
Ward said that prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, about 1% to 3% of those crossing the border were subjected to name queries, but now that figure is almost 100%. He said those checks are paying off, despite the concomitant delays for border crossers, as last year at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa "we arrested almost 2,000 people attempting to enter the United States that had felony arrest warrants."
Ward, who was on the initial team that developed and implemented SENTRI in 1995, said that there are eight SENTRI lanes at San Ysidro and three at Otay Mesa, and that the system has 125,000 users. He said port officials try to keep the SENTRI wait at 15 minutes or less, but that that is not always possible.
The current cost for SENTRI is $122.50 for five years, (not including the cost for a background check) but the price could come down to $100, or $20 a year. "Mr. Bersin is working on that down at the headquarters," Ward said, referring to Alan Bersin, (left) the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Ward said there could be downward movement on the price by the end of the year. He said SENTRI lanes account for 26% of vehicular traffic at San Ysidro and 24% of traffic at Otay Mesa.
Ward told San Diego Councilman David Alvarez that a move to try to drop the fee to as little as $42.25 did not fly.
Ward also said it had been thought that the SENTRI office opened near the San Ysidro port of entry would do about 25 applications a day, but that it has been processing more than 80. He said the suggestion to open the office came from the South County Economic Development Corporation.
SENTRI stands for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection.
Ward also said of the San Ysidro port of entry pedestrian crossing: "It's a mess." He added, "And it probably will be a mess for quite some time, the reconstruction is going to take five years."
He said officials are trying to better organize the pedestrian crossing by having travelers with different types of documents go to designated lanes, and "we've opened all 13 lanes to alleviate some of the wait during peak times of traffic."