SAN YSIDRO – Nearly two weeks into a three-year expansion of the lanes at the port of entry, regular crossers are, well, more cross than usual.
On Friday morning, motorists waited at least three hours to cross, many arriving late to their appointments.
“Two weeks ago the wait became exceedingly slow, much more than before,” said Juan Miguel Reynoso, a Tijuana resident who crosses the border weekdays to work in San Diego.
“I have less time to rest, less time to be with my family,” he said Wednesday morning while waiting in his vehicle to cross. “I have to get up earlier and spend more time sitting in my car.”
The $577 million expansion project, the largest on the U.S. land border, is meant to speed the crossing of the 50,000 vehicles that enter the U.S. daily. The project will increase the number of vehicle lanes from 24 lanes to 34, with 62 inspection booths. The pedestrian crossing will expand to 20 inspection booths.
The project’s manager at Customs and Border Protection, Oscar Preciado, urged border crossers to be patient during the 36-month construction period.
This July 4 weekend, CBP announced that it would halt construction during the three-day holiday weekend, traditionally one of the busiest periods of the entire year.
In mid-June, CBP officials began closing up to three lanes at a time for a period up to 30 hours to install electric and phone lines to the inspection booths.
The cross-border community, particularly those who enter the U.S. during the peak morning commute hours, felt the impact immediately.
If it normally took 60 to 90 minutes to cross, that wait can now be a minimum of two hours.
“Maybe the distance is the same, but the wait is much longer,” said Eduardo Rangel, 29, a Tijuana resident who has crossed the border daily for the last five years to work as a salesman in San Ysidro.
“If it was already difficult to predict how long it would to cross,” he said, “now I have to leave home one hour earlier to get to my job on time.”
Even crossers with SENTRI passes have been affected because they face long lines just to be able to reach the fast-pass lanes.
Last Friday morning, officials had closed one SENTRI lane because of the construction, backing up traffic to the Rio zone in the other two dedicated lanes, pushing the wait time to 40 minutes. And on Tuesday around 6:30 p.m. it took motorists with this pass up to two hours to cross.
The stated goal of U.S. authorities is for SENTRI users to cross in 15 minutes or less.
CBP officials noted that when the expansion is completed, border crossing times should be reduced significantly.
Reynoso said he’s aware of that long-term goal but that it’s going to be difficult to endure the longer waits until then.
“Until they make good on their promises,” he said referring to U.S. authorities, “we’re going to put up with more, particularly those of us who cross daily.”
Alma González, for her part, said she’s willing to sacrifice her time now as long as there is a payoff in the future.
“If all these changes lead to an easier crossing, then it will be worth it, above all being patient,” she said.
Drivers are not the only ones who have seen longer wait times. Street hawkers who are part of the port of entry’s landscape said that they have seen lines longer than normal in recent days – and drivers more impatient than usual.
Cuauhtémoc Meza sells curios from mobile stand at the border and his greatest worry is whether the construction will affect his income.
“You never know; sometimes there are long lines to cross, sometimes short ones,” he said. “I have been working here for two years and I still don’t know how to predict what the wait will be.”