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San Ysidro Merchants Concerned Over Possible Closing of Bridge

Plans to close a pedestrian bridge traversing Interstate 5 at the San Ysidro border crossing have been put on hold, but business groups in the community say they are concerned that closure is still a possibility.

In March, an official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection told a community group that because of security concerns about people on the bridge observing CBP operations in its secondary inspection area, the agency was planning to close the 600-foot-long bridge. Subsequently, the agency said there were no plans to close the structure.

In a letter dated June 6, Adele Fasano, the director for CBP at the San Diego field office, said: “In summary, at this time, CBP has no plans to close the pedestrian bridge. However, the security concerns and other potential threats to the CBP mission cannot be overlooked.”

To some community leaders, the wording sounds as though the CBP could change its mind.

Jason Wells, director for the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, said CBP has also spoken of closing the bridge temporarily at night, perhaps from midnight to 4 a.m.

In March, the chamber sent a letter to Fasano saying that closing the bridge would cause adverse economic effects to an already economically challenged area by depriving local businesses of foot traffic generated by the San Diego trolley system.

If the bridge were closed, it would force pedestrians getting off at the San Ysidro trolley station , the end of the line , to walk across a freeway overpass at Camino de la Plaza.

Not only would the pedestrians be required to walk farther, trolley riders, estimated at 10,700 daily, would create traffic hazards in the area, according to the letter by chamber President Thomas Currie.

Another business group, the San Ysidro Business Improvement Association, is also opposed to closing the bridge.

“This is the busiest trolley station in the entire San Diego trolley system, and many of the riders use the pedestrian bridge to cross the freeway and get to the other side,” said Steve Otto, executive director.

Otto said there are alternatives that could resolve the problem, including installing opaque panels on the bridge’s two sides so crossers cannot see CBP operations. Another way to address complaints that the bridge is the site of increased criminal activity would be to put security guards at either end of the bridge.

Vince Bond, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said the agency has made it clear that it isn’t closing the bridge.

But at some point, the bridge will have to be closed because of a plan to reconfigure the entire border crossing facility. That project is not expected to begin for several years, and scheduled for completion in 2014.

The current plan calls for the bridge to be moved well behind the inspection lanes entering the United States from Mexico. Bond said the agency has both security concerns related to people observing inspection activities, and safety concerns to pedestrians related to “incidents” on the bridge.

He said for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the agency reported 155 incidents that included fights, robberies and assaults.

When these occur, CBP has to call police working for Federal Protective Services because CBP agents focus on inspecting vehicles and people coming into the country, he said.

The CBP participated in a community meeting about the pedestrian bridge June 15 in San Ysidro that Bond called “a brainstorming session” to discuss a range of solutions, and would likely hold another meeting on the issue.

“We’re certainly going to continue the dialogue and try to come up with an agreeable consensus and a mechanism by which we can improve the security and safety on the bridge,” he said.

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