In less than two weeks, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce heads to Mexico City, leading its 10th annual trade delegation to the capital of California’s largest trading partner. The focus of the delegation’s visit will be the four agreements signed between the State of California and the Mexican federal government.
The most significant for San Diego, and arguably for the state, is the recently signed memorandum of understanding with Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation that established an oversight committee to expedite the construction of the proposed Otay Mesa East Port of Entry (POE) and a new highway (state Route 11) that will connect the POE to the rest of the state highway system. The first segment of SR 11 is currently under construction and is expected to be completed this fall.
The Otay Mesa East POE binational project has the potential to contribute to significant economic growth for our region. It will stimulate growth in bi-national trade with a more efficient supply chain link between manufacturers and markets. The trade growth at the current Otay Mesa POE, the main commercial gateway for international trade between California and Mexico, has consistently outpaced the gross regional product (GRP) since 2006.
In 2013, the value of trade at Otay Mesa exceeded $35 billion, and yet, our region is far from reaching its full economic potential. Congestion at the current Otay Mesa POE constricts the flow of people and freight, choking off economic opportunities. Border wait times for commercial trucks — the major conduit of binational trade – currently take as long as two to four hours, costing the United States and Mexico a combined $7.2 billion annually in lost economic output and more than 62,000 jobs each year.
Recent improvements to the San Ysidro POE have reduced wait times for individuals and passenger vehicles, resulting in an increase in the demand to cross the border. Since the San Ysidro POE does not process commercial traffic, a pressing need remains for a new commercial POE.
The new Otay Mesa East POE will provide secure, reliable, and predictable crossings with a goal of 20-minute waits. The project includes a commercial vehicle enforcement facility. It will utilize state-of-the-art Intelligent Transportation Systems concepts and technology.
Through an advanced traveler alert system, border crossers will be informed about toll rates at the Otay Mesa East POE as well as border wait times and special lane conditions at the major ports in the San Diego-Baja California region so they can better plan their trips and choose which POE best suits their needs. In addition, electronic variable toll rates will improve cross-border traffic, reduce wait times and make the crossing more predictable.
By providing properly planned and managed access roads that reduce the amount of wait time for cars and trucks, the new POE will improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The binational Otay Mesa East POE will be funded through an innovative approach. Tolls collected on the approach roads leading up to the POE will serve as the backbone for financing the project. Other funding mechanisms are being explored and may include loans from the federal government.
Our advocacy efforts leading up to the delegation trip to Mexico City and throughout our scheduled meetings are focused on strengthening federal cooperation and collaboration on this project, which is fundamental to growing critical trade and commerce for our region. Our efforts are further strengthened by the high-profile, binational delegation leading the trip, which includes California Secretary of Transportation Brian Kelly and Mariano Escobedo, Director of International Relations, State of Baja.
Otay Mesa East POE has the potential to become a prototype for how future border crossings are funded, designed, built, and operated – thereby ensuring that San Diego continues to grow as a 21st Century global city.
Jerry Sanders is president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Ron Roberts is 4th District Supervisor for the County of San Diego and vice chair of the SANDAG board of directors.