While U.S. funding to finish the expansion of the San Ysidro port of entry is not yet allocated, Mexico appears on track to complete its new southbound border crossing.
Mexico is to finish construction in 2012 of the crossing, known as El Chaparral, as well as new bridges that will be needed for the transborder traffic, said Mexican Congressman Gastón Luken on Friday during the 21st summit of the South County Economic and Development Council.
Luken, who represents Baja California, said that Mexico has allocated $55 million to finish the project as planned. The funds came from fees collected at Mexican commercial border crossings.
"The expansion project should be seen as an investment not an expense," Luken said about the San Ysidro expansion.
The remodeling and expansion project is to be done in three phases, which together are to cost $577 million.
Phase one is under way which involves the demolition of the existing port of entry building and expansion of traffic lanes from 24 to 62.
The second phase, which is to start in 2013, involves improving the pedestrian processing facilities.
And in the third phase, the I-5 southbound lanes will be shifted to accommodate the expansion of northbound lanes. The new southbound lanes are to connect to El Chaparral.
The total San Ysidro project was to be completed by 2016 but that date is now in doubt because the U.S. Congress has not yet funded phases two and three. When pressed as to what a potential funding delay means, project managers say that the expansion will be finished, but later than planned.
What's more, a potential delay would also affect the planned U.S. expansions of the Otay Mesa and Calexico border crossings.
The annual summit drew about 400 people to the San Diego Convention Center to hear a variety of leaders and analysts discuss the region's economy. One panel featured elected officials from all levels of government in California, as well as Luken, speaking about "The Future of the Border Region."
They all spoke about the importance of securing the funds to complete the San Ysidro project.
"Reducing the wait times should be the priority," stressed Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, during the panel discussion.
He said that reducing wait times by one hour per day would generate an additional $7 billion in revenue per year for San Diego County.
For his part, San Diego Councilman David Alvarez said he recently visited Washington, D.C. as part of a regional delegation that included officials from both sides of the border, including Luken, to lobby members of Congress to approve the funds to complete the expansion.
"There are no funds yet, but we must make the effort to raise awareness of the importance of transforming the San Ysidro border crossing," said Alvarez, who represents District 8.
U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, said, "many people would die to live in a region like this one." That's why an investment should be made to make traveling between both countries easier, something that would spur economic development in both countries, he said.
The panel members also included Assemblyman Marty Block, D- San Diego; state Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, Coronado Council member Barbara Denny; Chula Vista Council member
Pamela Bensoussan; National City Mayor Ron Morrison; and County Supervisor Greg Cox.