In the News

Edward Sifuentes - SAN YSIDRO — Local business leaders and elected officials on Monday issued a joint appeal to Congress to continue funding for a major reconstruction project that promises to relieve congestion at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Congressmen Juan Vargas and Scott Peters, both Democrats from San Diego, gathered with about a dozen other community notables for a news conference at the port — one of the world’s busiest border crossings, with more than 50,000 vehicle and about 25,000 pedestrian crossings each day. They said completion of the three-phase, multiyear project is crucial to the region’s economy.

“It’s the only thing on my Christmas list,” Vargas said.

Standing behind him were county Supervisor Greg Cox; San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria; Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego; state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego; Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce; and others.

President Barack Obama requested $226 million for the project in his proposed budget this year. That money was also included in the Senate version of the budget, but it was left out of the House version.

Vargas said the focus now shifts to the budget-reconciliation process between the House and Senate appropriations committees, which will decide on whether to allocate the funds needed to move the San Ysidro project forward, Vargas said. Those deliberations are expected to be completed by late January, he added.

There is broad, bipartisan support in San Diego County for the project, Vargas said, and the Monday gathering was aimed at sending that message of unity to Congress.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, who did not attend the news conference, said through his spokesman that border security is key and that he supports funding for the project.

“Mr. Hunter’s issue is that if there is any type of (port) expansion, that the port is secure,” said the spokesman, Joe Kasper.

A spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said the congressman “strongly supports the San Ysidro Port of Entry project.”

If Congress ultimately includes the $226 million earmark in its final budget, the money would be used to realign Interstate 5 so it connects with Tijuana’s El Chaparral crossing, Mexico’s counterpart to San Ysidro that opened last year. Currently, vehicles driving south into Mexico are routed to El Chaparral through a temporary access road.

So far, the reconstruction work — which started in 2011 — has brought a new pedestrian bridge, a new southbound pedestrian crossing and a partial expansion of northbound vehicle-inspection lanes.

The estimated cost of the entire project is $732 million, according to the General Services Administration, which is overseeing the initiative.

A 2007 study by the San Diego Association of Governments estimated that delays due to long border wait times cost the economy about $7.2 billion in lost gross output per year and more than 62,000 jobs.

People crossing the border have experienced an increase in wait times since the U.S. federal government stepped up security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As wait times have increased, the number of northbound vehicle crossings at the port of entry has dropped — from 17.9 million in 2004 to 11.6 million last year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Sanders and other business leaders said people often cross the border to shop and work in San Diego, helping to grow the regional economy.

“There is probably not a more important project in the region than expanding this border (port of entry) and getting it done,” Sanders said.

Jason Wells, the director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, said easing border waits is not only important to San Ysidro but also the state and national economy.

The reconstruction project is scheduled to be completed in three phases. Only the first phase has been funded, with about $292 million in stimulus and other federal money.