Buttigieg offers a future Otay Mesa East crossing during a trip to the San Diego-Tijuana border

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the San Diego-Tijuana border on Friday to promote the future Otay Mesa East Port of Entry, which still needs $568 million in funding as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel.

The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., followed inspection officials to better understand the process of examining large trucks that travel to the United States from Mexico. Wearing a blue safety helmet and yellow vest, he ducked under one of the massive vehicles while workers kicked tires and shined flashlights into the undercarriage.

The visit comes a month after regional transportation officials struck a major deal with Mexico on how to share future toll revenue at the new port of entry, which is slated to open by 2024. The revenue would be collected in the United States and split equally. , generating an estimated $3.4 billion for each country over the next four decades.

High-ranking local and state officials gathered at the project site Friday to hear Buttigieg voice his commitment to the long-planned, $1.47 billion facility.

“We’re here to talk about how we’re building a strong and more resilient American economy, and to celebrate a great example of that in this project that will create jobs and lower costs for people here in San Diego County and across the country. ” he told the crowd standing on dirt where State Route 11 ends and where the federal toll facility is to be built.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (right) talks with California State Transportation Agency Toks Omishakin at the Otay Mesa East project site Friday in San Diego.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, County Supervisors Nora Vargas and Nathan Fletcher, as well as State Transportation Agency Secretary Toks Omishakin, surrounded by large yellow bulldozers, listened intently. California Governor Eleni Kounalakis also spoke at the event, stressing that the project is not yet fully funded and that Congress still needs to approve money for additional tolls to operate Otay Mesa East.

“While we celebrate and recognize your leadership, Mr. Buttigieg, in helping to build the customs facility,” she said, “we must also remember that we will need additional support, engagement and investment from the federal government to complete this project. .”

Still, the project made significant progress this year with the completion of the highway connector, which included work on state Routes 125, 905 and 11. The facility officially broke ground in August and secured a crucial $150 million in federal funding a month later.

Buttigieg was unsure whether Congress would approve funding for new customs officers needed to operate the border crossing. Although several officials said they believe the issue has bipartisan appeal.

“This is an ongoing conversation … and we recognize that physical transportation infrastructure is just one of them,” he said. “We also know that every CBP agent can be more efficient and effective and have a better experience doing their job when they have better equipment.”

Tens of thousands of people cross the border between San Diego and Tijuana every day, from schoolchildren to hotel workers to truck drivers. It can take hours to get across the border during the blockade, costing an estimated $3.4 billion in economic output annually.

The goal of the new transition is to reduce those wait times while helping to boost Tijuana’s thriving manufacturing and warehousing sectors. About 1.4 million trucks crossed into California from Mexico in 2021, up from 1.1 million in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“I think about what it means to reduce the number of hours spent here,” Buttigieg said Friday. “Less wasted time for truckers means more time at home with loved ones.”

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (left) and Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg (second from left) tour the CHP’s commercial vehicle enforcement facility Friday in San Diego.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Otay Mesa East will have 10 lanes in each direction for both cars and trucks and will have room to grow. Its 120-acre site is larger than the total footprint of the current border crossings at Otay Mesa and San Ysidro.

Average wait times at the new facility are estimated to be 5 to 25 minutes for passenger vehicles and 15 to 45 minutes for freight. Toll prices would fluctuate to discourage traffic. The signs would alert approaching drivers of tolls as well as wait times.

Business owners seem very optimistic about the project and the future of trade between the two countries. Cargo movement through the current Otay Mesa port of entry generates $47 billion a year and could triple to $166 billion by 2050, according to a report by the San Diego Association of Governments.

Much production has recently moved from China to Mexico in a process called “nearshoring.” The main commodities shipped from Mexico to California are electronics, agricultural goods, automobiles and medical devices.

“Everybody realized that you can make a lot of money if you make (computer) chips in Mexico, if you make the kind of stuff we always get from China,” said Eduardo Acosta, RL Jones Customhouse Brokers vice president and board member. from the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce, who attended Friday’s event. “We can’t have all our eggs in one basket.

While the truck business is booming, pedestrian and passenger vehicle traffic is down significantly. According to federal statistics, the number of car crossings into California from Mexico fell from nearly 34.3 million in 2006 to about 25.5 million in 2021. During the same time period, the number of people heading across the border on foot dropped from 15.5 million trips to 10 .3 million.

Officials speculated that tighter border control regimes could slow down lines and discourage travel.

“I think what’s going on is the wait times. It’s not as attractive to make that second trip,” said Mario Orso, senior deputy director of Caltrans District 11 in San Diego.

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