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USDOT Awards $150M INFRA Grant to Otay Mesa East Port of Entry Project, Fueling Economic Growth and Regional Mobility for California and Mexico

by: Jessica Hoover
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded $1.5 billion in Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants to highway, multimodal freight, and rail projects across the country. In the California Builder & Engineer area, a $150-million INFRA grant was awarded to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry Project in San Diego County, California.

The project, which began in August 2022 and is estimated to cost $1.1 billion, is a joint venture between Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments, in collaboration with state and federal partners in the U.S. and Mexico. When complete in 2024, the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry will serve as a 21st century border crossing that will reduce wait times, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fuel economic and job growth, enhance regional mobility, strengthen border security and resiliency, and bolster binational trade.

The Need for Border Infrastructure Improvements
The existing ports of entry in the San Diego-Baja California region are currently facing increasing demands and insufficient capacity, which is causing congestion that limits travel and economic growth and contributes to the effects of climate change. Without improving the border infrastructure, the growing region will lose billions of dollars of growth in the U.S. and Mexican economies.

“While the U.S. and Mexico continue to improve existing border infrastructure, increasing demands on the existing ports of entry in the San Diego-Baja California region are impeding mobility,” said Mario Orso, Chief Deputy of the Capital Program in Caltrans District 11. “According to a 2016 border delays study, insufficient capacity at these border crossings results in $3.4 billion in economic loss, leading to more than 88,000 lost jobs as a result. Without additional port of entry enhancements, the economic loss is estimated to grow to over $5 billion by 2025, as well as 97,000 lost jobs.”

With the Otay Mesa Port of Entry being the busiest commercial vehicle crossing in California and Mexico, upgrading the infrastructure is essential for trade between the two regions, which has increased by 45 percent over the last decade. Additionally, more than 90 percent of California-Mexico trade is moved by truck.

Features and Benefits of the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry Project
Some features of the project include constructing a new toll road at State Route 11; building a Port of Entry Facility and Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facility; and providing inspection equipment for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and zero-emission chargers for staff vehicles. The port of entry will also decrease wait times at other San Diego border crossings by providing a relief valve for traffic.

“The Otay Mesa East Port of Entry will feature interchangeable passenger and commercial vehicle primary inspection lanes to reduce wait times by an estimated 50 percent on opening day and will maximize efficiency by taking advantage of differing peak travel times for passenger versus commercial vehicles,” Orso said. “Additionally, an advanced traveler information system will inform border crossers about toll rates, border wait times, special lane conditions, and incidents at all regional land ports of entry, helping to intelligently link traffic operations throughout the region and increase border efficiency.”

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With a goal of reducing the average wait time to 20 minutes, the project will have a significant impact on vehicle wait times (which are currently around two to four hours), subsequently reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality. The improvements to the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry will also bring positive economic benefits by facilitating freight movement and spurring job creation.

“The Otay Mesa East Port of Entry is a project that will not only benefit the San Diego and Tijuana regions, but also the states of California and Baja California, and the United States and Mexico,” Orso said. “The new port of entry and associated infrastructure enhancements will transform the way people and goods move throughout both countries.”

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