SAN YSIDRO, California (Reuters) - A $600 million expansion that would more than double capacity at the world’s busiest border crossing broke ground south of San Diego on Thursday, aiming to boost security and cut lengthy delays at the California-Mexico border.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, joined U.S. and Mexican dignitaries at a ceremony marking the expansion of the San Ysidro port of entry, which handles 50,000 vehicles each day crossing north from Tijuana, Mexico, along with 25,000 pedestrians.
Increased security in the wake of the September 11 attacks has added to wait times at crossings including San Ysidro, where traffic frequently backs up for more than a mile to the center of Tijuana at peak times.
“It’s a very big project that will bring very big benefits to the area, the state of California and the nation,” Boxer told reporters at a ceremony to mark the expansion at the port. “Neither can prosper if we have these bottlenecks.”
Mexico is the United States’ second largest trading partner after Canada. Bilateral trade is worth around $1 billion a day, while around a million people cross back and forth over the shared border each day.
The first stage of the overhaul will boost the number of vehicle inspection booths to 46 from the current 24, including a dedicated bus lane and additional inspection facilities at a cost of $292 million.
Second and third phases aim to add pedestrian and southbound inspection facilities and 17 additional northbound inspection booths by early 2016, although more than $300 million needed to complete the project has yet to be authorized by the U.S. government.
In the years to 2030, traffic through the already furiously busy crossing is tipped to grow by nearly 90 percent, according to a study by the San Diego Association of Government, which estimated delays cost the region $2 billion to $2.5 billion per year in lost output.
The move to increase capacity at San Ysidro was welcomed by weary commuters in Mexico as they sat in exhaust-belching lines of cars running up from Tijuana, where waits of two to three hours are common.
“It’s ideal for those of us with lives that stretch across the border,” said beautician Alicia Esquivel, 48. Esquivel said delays in both directions meant clients from San Diego are put off traveling to her Tijuana salon.
Housewife Angelina Morados, 52, said she hoped it would also make crossing a more comfortable experience.
“It’s not just the delay ... It’s the smoke, the street vendors ... and even the crime,” she said. “We’ve needed it for some time.”
Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Robin Emmott in Mexico; Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton