Plans for border facilities in the San Diego/Tijuana region

D. Cruz Gonzales
Director, Transportation Department
City of San Diego, California

In 1848 the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo selling the northern part of Mexico to the United States. In the San Diego area it established the new border as two nautical miles from the southernmost part of San Diego Bay. An artificial line separated the two countries and the two cities of Tijuana and San Diego.

San Diego and Tijuana have grown so dramatically that currently an estimated 3.5 million people inhabit the combined San Diego/Tijuana region. It has grown to the point that the border crossing known as the San Ysidro/Tijuana Port of Entry (P.O.E.) has become the busiest P.O.E. in the world with approximately 43 million crossings per year. The two cities have become so interlinked that approximately 18 years ago a second P.O.E. was constructed about five miles to the east on Otay Mesa to accommodate additional vehicular and commercial truck traffic.

Border crossings have grown to the point that the federal government is now studying the need for improvements to the border facility. The region is also considering construction of a third P.O.E. approximately two miles east of the existing port on Otay.

This article will briefly describe what is being proposed for the San Ysidro Port and the Otay II Port and the issues involved in dealing with the governments on both sides of the border.

San Ysidro/Tijuana Port of Entry
It is the busiest P.O.E. in the world with approximately 43 million crossings per year. Approximately 80 percent of the crossings are vehicular and 20 percent are pedestrian. The facility has 24 northbound lanes out of Mexico and six southbound lanes into Mexico.

The General Services Administration (GSA) has the lead in preparing the "San Ysidro Border Station Reconfiguration Feasibility Study." The purpose of the study is to look at the redevelopment of the border station by replacing outdated structures and adding new facilities.

At first GSA looked at just adding southbound lanes into Mexico. In late 2000 GSA issued a feasibility study for southbound vehicles into Mexico immediately west of the P.O.E. The southbound crossing was proposed for a location at Virginia Avenue owned by the federal government, which was directly across from the border from a parcel of property in Mexico owned by the Mexican government known as El Chaparral. This location had been the Commercial P.O.E. for truck traffic. When the Otay facility was built, commercial truck traffic was moved to that facility and the facilities at Virginia Avenue/El Chaparral were closed.

The General Services Administration then studied that site for the southbound vehicular traffic because the Mexican and U.S. governments already owned the property to be developed. However, as a result of local community opposition and the need for a more comprehensive look at their facilities, GSA broadened the scope of the study to include the northbound facilities and the pedestrian crossings.

The proposed project area has now been expanded to include the entire San Ysidro Border Station and not just the southbound facility. GSA is now studying the feasibility of possibly increasing the number of northbound gates from 24 to up to 50 and southbound gates from six to between 12 and 24 as well as having pedestrian access at two locations.

They are working with the various Federal Inspection Services including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Customs, the Department of Agriculture, Border Patrol, the State of California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and the City of San Diego.

The current study will assess existing conditions and develop several options for the uses of the border station and surrounding area and provide preliminary cost estimates. The study will result in several options for the station to provide GSA with sufficient data to develop a prospectus for the site. The federal government will not select a development option until the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) has been completed, which includes public input.

The proposed schedule for the reconfiguration of the facility is to have the Environmental Studies with public hearings done in 2003, Project Design and Construction Contracting from 2004 through early 2006 and, finally, construction between 2006 and early 2010. The anticipated prolonged construction period is due to the necessity of continuing the current level of service during construction.

In addition to the plans for the border facility being studied, a private investment corporation, Landgrant, is proposing that a pedestrian toll bridge linking San Ysidro to a historic district in downtown Tijuana be constructed using private funding. The proposed bridge is just west of the area being considered for southbound entry of vehicles by GSA. Landgrant in cooperation with the City of San Diego has applied for a Presidential Permit from the United States Department of State to establish another P.O.E. by constructing the bridge.

Proposed Otay Mesa II Port of Entry
Federal, state and local governments on both sides of the border are considering a proposal to develop a second border crossing on Otay Mesa. This crossing will be approximately two miles from the existing crossing.

The California Department of Transportation is just starting the construction of the last sections of State Route (SR) 905 to the border. The project will extend SR-905 to the existing border crossing on Otay Mesa. That project began in November 2002 and should take approximately four years to complete. The border crossing is currently served by Otay Mesa Road which is a six-lane arterial recently turned over by the City of San Diego to the state. The alignment for the completion of SR-905 will run just south of Otay Mesa Road to the border.

In order to access the proposed Otay II crossing, State Route 11 is being proposed. SR-11 will extend from SR-905 easterly to the proposed second crossing.

Currently, the State of California has applied for a Presidential Permit for the second border crossing on the Mesa. Right-of-way for the roadway is being reserved and three possible locations adjacent to one another have been identified. The facility will require a footprint of approximately 100 acres on the American side. On the Mexican side, federal, state and local governments are planning a roadway from Las Playas de Rosarito to the border. The specific alignment of that roadway has yet to be determined, but it will terminate at one of the three locations already identified.

The future brings several exciting and challenging projects to the region at the border. In order to prepare for many of these challenges, the San Diego Association of Governments was instrumental in forming the Bi-State Transportation Technical Advisory Committee (BTTAC). The group is binational with representatives from all of the cities along both sides of the border, and representatives from the appropriate state and local planning groups on both sides. The group reviews and comments on projects such as the ones described in this article along with many other projects along the border. The challenge is to ensure that neither side plans in a 180-degree manner considering issues solely on their side of the border. The intent is to consider impacts of projects on both sides of the border and plan accordingly.

If additional information is desired on any of the projects or on BTTAC, please contact D. Cruz Gonzalez, Transportation Department Director, City of San Diego, at 619-533-3853 or at

SPWA Regional Conference
The Slovak Public Works Association will hold a Regional Conference of the V-4 Countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) in April 2003 in Senica, Slovakia. SPWA President Peter Benes extends a welcome to all APWA members. Anyone interested in this event should contact members of the APWA/SPWA Task Force or Geoff Greenough at for more details.

Senica is a small town located about 31 miles from Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) and about 75 miles from Vienna. According to Helena Allison (see "Member Profile" on page 9), the countryside surrounding Senica is beautiful. This might be the time to take that European vacation that you have been dreaming about!


Cross-cultural Management: French vs. American
(Courtesy of an article from the computer giant, Compagnie des Machines Bull)

Have you ever thought about what it is like to do business between the French and Americans? There are many areas of misunderstanding and the feelings run deep. The French will take awhile to get to know you because they take friendship very seriously. The flip side is that the French may think we are shallow because we are so easy to get to know.

There are certain idiosyncrasies that characterize the French and Americans. The French like to work in dimly lit rooms. We Americans will immediately flip on the light switches. Many businesses in America have prohibited smoking or have adopted smoke-free zones. Smoking is still a very important part of the French culture. We Americans do everything earlier—going to work, leaving work, having dinner, and going to bed. The French get started later and work later, until at least 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. Parties in France can last until midnight or 2:00 a.m.—well past the bedtime of many Americans. The French like espresso coffee and intensely dislike the "muddy water" called American coffee.

In the United States, people always tell you the positive thing about the work you have done first, and only then will they tell you the negative thing. In France, they would say: "Pas mal" ("not bad"). "Pas mal" can actually be interpreted as a compliment. The French may be uneasy when you give them a compliment. They are usually expecting some light criticism. If you compliment someone at work, it may be considered suspicious.

Cultural Proverbs:

"Ask the experienced rather than the learned." — Arabic Proverb

"Be on your guard against a silent dog and still water." — Latin Proverb

"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors." — African Proverb