(San Diego UT) To anyone with notions of driving into Tijuana through San Ysidro on the weekend of Sept. 23-25, the U.S. General Services Administration has some advice: Change those plans.
For a 57-hour period—from 3 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 until noon on Monday, Sept. 25—the border will be closed to southbound vehicles.
The closure is critical to the GSA’s plan to realign the southernmost portion of Interstate 5—a project that launches the third and final phase of the $741 million expansion of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest land port in the Western Hemisphere.
“The traveling public has the ability to make this either an OK experience or a terrible experience,” said Anthony Kleppe, a senior asset manager with the GSA, said during a news conference on Thursday outlining the plan. “People need to plan ahead, this is not going to be a typical weekend.”
The final phase of the port’s reconstruction, scheduled for completion in June 2019, is expected to ease vehicle congestion at the border. Among the planned improvements are the doubling of southbound vehicle lanes—from five to ten--leading into Mexico’s border inspection facility at El Chaparral. Plans also call for eight additional northbound vehicle inspection lanes for a total of 33.
For those who are planning to cross southbound from San Ysidro to Tijuana during this month’s closure, Kleppe offered a range of alternatives: “We’re asking people to stay home, enjoy your local community,” he said. Or they might plan to cross a day earlier, or consider alternative transportation, he said, adding, “We’re encouraging people to consider..crossing as pedestrians.”
During the shutdown, all vehicle traffic into Tijuana will be routed down State Route 905 to the Otay Mesa port located nine miles east. But with only five Mexican inspection lanes, there will certainly be a backlog unless large numbers stay away.
“If people don’t alter their travel patterns, if everybody tries to head south in their car….then you can expect significant delays of an hour or more,” to get into Mexico through Otay, said Laurie Berman, director of Caltrans’ District 11 in San Diego.
Authorities have compared the border closure operation to Carmageddon, the nickname for the 2011 weekend closure of the Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. So many warnings were issued that drivers stayed away—and the hope for a similar experience with this month’s “Border Carmageddon.”
Northbound vehicle traffic will not be affected by the operation. And the port’s two pedestrian facilities—both northbound and southbound—likewise will remain open.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, some 70,000 northbound vehicle passengers cross through San Ysidro on an average day; officials estimate that the southbound flow is similar.
Following the shutdown, southbound drivers could still feel some effects, particularly during rush-hour periods. As the project moves into its next phase, only three southbound vehicle lanes will feed into Mexico’s El Chaparral Port of Entry—a reduction from five in the current configuration.
Once that phase is completed, there will be four lanes for the final 18 months of the project. But authorities hope to avoid any vehicle backlog through a redesigned, softer curve in the road that leads to Mexico’s inspection facility.